Over the years many customers ask for advice on how to get relief from cycling related foot pain. Their symptoms range but are typically burning and/or numbness in the toes and/or feet – and in some cases with debilitating pain.
The majority of cycling related foot pain issues are caused from compression of the foot, specifically the ball or forefoot. Nerves running through the Metatarsals or knuckles of the foot can be compressed resulting in what’s referred to as “hot foot”. Symptoms can show up or grow worse on hot days, long rides, or rides with a lot of climbing. While no one solution is a guaranteed fix for everyone the majority of them center on reducing the pressure on the ball of the foot and giving the nerves more room. Here are some proven things to look at:
Make sure that you have enough room in your shoes especially in the ball and toe box. Do not over tighten the straps, often people who have had hot foot or pain will leave the straps, laces or buckles closest to their toes loose. If necessary, you can also have your shoes stretched at a shoe repair store. We find that this only helps if you just need a little bit more room since the materials used for cycling shoes are generally designed to not stretch. If you have wide feet make sure to purchase shoes that come in a wide width; several manufacturers offer some models in widths. Lastly, pay attention to where the mechanical closures sit on the top or side of your foot. If the tongue or buckle hit a sensitive spot on your foot it can definitely cause issues.
Shoe stiffness and Arch Supports / Orthotics
While stiff soles are fantastic at transferring your energy to the bike, they can also be part of the problem. Think about standing barefoot on concrete – your feet will primarily contact at the heel and the ball of the foot. If you were to rock forward onto the ball of the foot to simulate cycling, there would be a lot of pressure on a very small area. To relieve this issue some shoe manufacturers have incorporated more arch support directly into their sole as well as have orthotics inside the shoe to help distribute the pedaling load over a greater surface area. Orthotics are important in that they contact the foot from the toes through the arch to the heel essentially forming a gasket between the foot and the sole of the shoe. This distributes pressure over a greater surface area. We have found Specialized BG insoles to be very effective in alleviating many causes of foot pain. The three key features that set them apart are:
- The arch is moved just slightly forward: Since we pedal with the ball of our foot this forward arch placement helps to lift pressure off of the ball of the foot and distribute it over a greater area. Standard walking and running Orthotics stabilize and support the foot from the heel, and while those can be an improvement over a flimsy stock insole, they are not nearly as efficient for pedaling or effective at reducing cycling related foot pain. This slight change in arch placement is the game changer!
- They are available in three different levels of arch support: You can get the correct amount of support your feet need. The correct level of arch in a foot bed will effectively contour and support your foot reducing the pressure by spreading it out over a larger area. Note that as the arch height increases so does the Metatarsal button height allowing both features to work as intended.
- Metatarsal Button: This pad or bump is built into the insole just behind the ball of the foot. It slightly lifts and spreads out the metatarsals giving more space for the nerves to pass through.
Cleats and Pedals:
- Cleat hardware: This doesn’t happen often, but we have seen where the wrong length cleat bolts were installed. They can push up into the sole of the shoe creating bumps or pressure points.
- Cleat position: As a starting point we recommend a position between your first and fifth metatarsal joints. In some cases, further back can help some riders. This cleat position can help take some pressure directly off of the bony parts of your feet that are more sensitive. Note: it may be necessary to lower your saddle to compensate for this adjustment.
- Pedal Type: Road style pedal and shoe combinations are best at distributing the load over a large area, the larger the surface area the better. Smaller cleat style pedals like SPD on a more flexible shoe can lead to some riders feeling the cleat through the shoe, causing a pressure point. This can often be remedied by going to a stiffer shoe, or a trail style SPD pedal that has a large platform to distribute the load.
Saddle height: A higher saddle position can cause a rider to point their toes as they reach for the pedals. This can potentially put more pressure directly on the ball of the foot. Adjusting the saddle down a couple of millimeters may make a difference.
Pedal style: Try to push more through the center of your foot, versus concentrating all the effort on the ball of your foot, this should help to spread the load out over a larger surface area of the foot. This is more of a technique change, and may not work for everyone.
Cadence: If you tend to push higher
gears, try speeding up your cadence. Ideally you should pedal at a cadence of 80 to 100 rotations per minute. Not only is it a more efficient, but the higher cadence will put less pressure on your feet.
Socks: Choose as thin of a sock as possible to ensure there is enough room in your shoe. Cushioning socks can help people with bony feet, but make sure that they don’t take up too much room inside your shoes. Generally a thin minimally padded sock is best for cycling.
Wedges and cants: While we only recommend using these for correcting foot, knee, and hip alignment, cants and wedges can have a side benefit of distributing the pressure more evenly over the ball of the foot. It’s important that you work with a fitter to see if they work for your specific needs.
Morton’s Neuroma: This is a medical condition that affects the ball of the foot, and is most common between the third and forth toes. Morton’s Neuroma is a thickening of the tissue around one or more of the nerves leading to the toes. It generally causes sharp burning pain in the ball of the foot, your toes may also sting, burn, or feel numb. Some people may have a sensation as if there is a pebble in their shoe.
Bike Fit: A bad fitting bike can cause many problems. Often issues are related and so one problem could cause another. With so many variables and possible solutions, the absolute best way to address all of them is with a professional bike fit. Anyone who has ever suffered with foot pain on a ride will confirm that any solution will pay off dramatically in more comfortable miles on the bike.
Interested in getting a bike fit? ERIK’S offers Specialized Body Geometry Fit. It’s a comprehensive program to help you ride faster, longer and more comfortable. Our Fit Technicians analyze your body’s unique attributes, pedal stroke and body position to truly match your bike to the needs of your body.
PLEASE NOTE: Many of the approaches discussed in this list should be helpful for relieving pain during cycling, but if you have any of these symptoms for longer than several days we recommend seeing your doctor.
Fit Friday blogs address issues of fit in bicycling. The information here is not meant to be a substitute for a bike fit as everyone is an individual with unique needs, goals, and riding interests. To find out more about ERIK’S Fit services, check out our website or stop by one of our stores.