Hot Spots

One of the discouraging aspects of last weekend’s metric century was a recurrence of the hot spot in my foot that bothered me in last fall’s Imperial century. It creeps up on me. At first, I don’t notice it. Then suddenly, the ball of my foot is burning. It hurts to pedal.

My usual remedy for hot spot is to stop, take off my shoe, massage my foot, maybe even take off my sock and let the air cool it. I was lucky Saturday. After I gave it that treatment, I didn’t get a hot spot for the rest of the ride.

Other times, like last fall’s century, I haven’t been so blessed. It plagued me for the rest of the ride, and was one of the reasons I rode slower than I had in that ride in the past.

I’m not alone.

A cursory check of biking online forums (fora?) reveals other cyclists who report much the same symptoms. So now that spring is here and warm weather rides will soon be common, maybe it’s time to talk about hot spots and how to handle them.

The most common advice is to loosen your shoes, move your cleat back — either a little or a lot, depending upon who is giving the advice, and get carbon fiber soles with a wide platform cleat.

In my case, I wear Specialized shoes with carbon soles. My cleats are back as far as they’ll go, and have been for a couple of years. I do keep my shoes fairly loose, because I know from experience that my feet swell up on long rides in warm weather.

But according to cycling coach Fred Matheny, hot spots are a neural problem. The burning sensation is caused by pressure on nerves in the feet, says Matheny. That pressure can eventually cause a neuroma, or swelling of the nerve between two metatarsal bones, as seen in the illustration at right. The coach suggests getting metatarsal buttons. These things are little foam domes that can be attached to insoles just behind the ball of the foot. They cause the metatarsal bones to spread, which keeps the nerves running between them from being pinched by pressure or swelling. You can buy metatarsal buttons in the foot care section of drug stores. Insoles with the buttons already built in are also available.

I’ll have to give them a try. I’m also going to dig around in my dresser drawers and try to find some running shoe insoles that I think I still have.

You might also consider wearing thin cycling-specific socks, and even buying high-end cycling shoes that come in widths. My friend Rick, who doesn’t get hot spots, rubs his feet with Chamois Butt’r before a long ride, and then puts on two pairs of socks — just the opposite of the conventional wisdom.

(Illustration from Synergy Massaging Insoles —¬†



  1. says

    I can understand how hotspots can disrupt a long ride. I myself have never experienced somthing like this. But thank you for the info. If i ever do go through this I’ll know of something to try.
    Going to switch up the Saturday morning ride a little. I wrote about it on my blog. If you don’t mind, let me know what you think of my idea.

  2. Barbara says

    I’m struggling with these as well as I get my new bike’s fit and new shoes position dialed in. Currently the cleats are as far back as they’ll go and I’m keeping the straps quite loose which has definitely made a difference. Now just the right foot acts like it wants to flair up but doesn’t actually cross that line. We’ll see. I hope my investment in new shoes don’t end up as a bargain on craigslist!

  3. says

    I am experiencing the hot spots now. I just finished a 56 mile ride and my goal isto do 75, but my feet are screaming bloody murder and I had to end my ride today. I keep trying different shoes, sandals, and I just ordered a pair of cycling sandals. I’m anxious to see if these help! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    • says

      One thing that works for me, which I addressed in a separate post, is to put some cotton between my little toe and tphe next one. It prevents the nerve swelling that causes the hot spot. It works for me — you might have to experiment with different toes.

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