It’s a beautiful day, and you’re ready to get out and enjoy the great outdoors riding your bicycle with your friends. You’re taking part in your longest ride this weekend, but you feel ready for the challenge.
You’re prepared for everything except a recent problem with your feet going numb while you ride. It’s been coming on slowly, and you hope it won’t prevent you from finishing the ride.
You’re wondering what’s going on and what causes it. And exactly what can you do about it?
This article discusses the main causes and how to overcome numb feet for cyclists.
What causes numb feet?
Numb feet can happen to every cyclist. It typically occurs for several reasons, such as prolonged rides, after injury, or following a recent equipment change such as a new bike, saddle, shoes, pedals, and cleats.
Perhaps none of these apply to you, but you just want it to stop as it’s distracting from the pleasure of cycling.
Numb feet usually start with a slight tingle that grows until part or all of your foot or feet go completely numb.
There are two primary causes of numb feet when you ride;
- Nerve compression
- Restricted blood
Blood flow to your muscles naturally increases during exercise. As effort intensifies, the blood flows too, and our muscles, including those in our feet, swell. Yet our feet are constrained by shoes, reducing how much they can expand.
The pressure builds up and pinches the arteries and nerves in our feet, causing numbness.
The two causes aren’t dissimilar at their root, as we can associate both with increased or lack of blood flow to the foot. However, our nervous system is a wide network throughout our bodies.
While compressed nerves in our feet can be the culprit, the constriction may happen elsewhere yet reflected only in the feet.
How to Ease Numb Feet
The real question is, what can be done about numb feet?
Because the origin of numb feet can vary for every cyclist, the result of a series of trial-and-error actions will define your success in easing the problem.
Here are some popular causes for numb feet and what you can do about them.
Move the cleat back slightly
Check your cleat’s positioning under your shoe.
Problem : Where are the cleats positioned? Solution : They should be under the ball of the foot, directly on top of the spindle. This zone takes the brunt of our body weight on and off the bike.
Problem : Are your cleats too far forward from this point? Solution : You may be riding on your toes instead of dispersing the force throughout the foot.
Try moving your cleats back a smidge. If you’ve tapped out on space due to shoe limits, a cleat adaptor like this is compatible with Shimano SPD, LOOK, Time, and Speedplay pedals.
Just how far back should you go? Read here to find out more.
Size the cycling shoe up or wider
Our feet get bigger during riding, which can pinch off blood and nerve supply in your shoes, causing foot numbness.
Problem : Are your shoe straps or BOAs too tight? Solution : Loosen them a bit and see how it goes.
Problem : Do your feet felt restricted? Solution : Go ½ size up, or opt for a wider pair (these usually have a E behind the shoe size; eg: 43E)
Sometimes, cycling shoes that are too narrow or small only add to potential problems. Go up a ½ size or choose a brand such as Shimano or Giro that offers larger widths like E.
Consider custom orthotics
If you have challenges with your everyday shoes or wear orthotics already, you’ll need the same for your cycling shoes.
Arches are designed to disperse weight over our entire foot, but they cannot do their job correctly without the proper support.
Custom orthotics mimic and reinforce your natural footbed, correcting poor arch support and better aligning your foot in your cycling shoe.
Wear shoe covers
Conceivably the easiest fix is if your numbness only happens when riding long distances in cold weather. Even if you don’t feel your feet suffer from frigid conditions, they may be.
Invest in or borrow a quality pair of warm winter booties and see if they provide any relief. I recommend wearing a toasty pair of merino wool cycling socks when temps drop.
More reading : How to Layer Clothing for Winter Riding
Get a professional bike fit
Every cyclist could benefit from a professional bike fit, but it isn’t automatic for many of us. Newer cyclists might not even know this type of fitting service exists.
A professional bike fitter will use their experience and a series of professional fitting tools to find your optimal cycling position to resolve your numbness issues.
Incorrect saddle height
I see many cyclists with incorrect saddle heights when I’m out on my bike.
It’s doubtful that all of them suffer from numb feet, but it’s a cause that shouldn’t be ignored.
- If the saddle is too high, it causes a rocking motion when pedaling, affecting nerves and blood flow.
- If the saddle is too low, the burden of our body mass is exaggerated on a few critical joints and muscle groups like hips, knees, and hamstrings, where the vital nerve and blood supplies circulate.
The added weight on these bits increases compression with each revolution, leading to numbness.
More reading : How to Set Your Saddle Height