Your feet are a very important part of riding a bike. They provide the platform for your power and give you a sense of being connected to your bike. Problems with your feet can really distract you from enjoying your ride.
What Causes Numb Feet?
Tingling sensations or complete loss of sensation in your feet is quite common for cyclists. What is happening to cause this when you are riding your bike?
Your legs are doing all the work when you ride and this increase in activity requires increased blood flow to the muscles doing the work. Increased blood flow in your legs will lead to your feet swelling a little when you ride. If your shoes are too tight, or done up tightly, your feet won’t have any room they will become a little squashed which can cause tingling or numbness.
Another reason is nerve impingement or compression of the nerves found between the bones under the ball of your foot. This area of the foot (your ball) is where you have the most connection with the pedal so over time on a longer ride or when you are riding intensely this part of your foot will be taking the load. This can cause direct nerve compression or a decrease in blood supply to the nerve – both these things result in numbness.
Just like other parts of your body, your feet can become tired when you ride. Holding your feet in their natural position is important as fatigued foot muscles will collapse which often is the reason for numb toes. Foot muscles will also fatigue if your shoes are too big as your feet will be working hard to hold onto something. They need to feel supported and secured to stop gripping.
Poor/weak body position on the bike or pedalling more to one side (dominant leg or slightly off centre seat) are also things to look at. Again with longer rides when you are asking your body to stay in one position the importance of that position and how you are transferring weight becomes more important.
What Causes Cold Feet?
Cold feet is a much more straight forward problem to solve. Caused by poor circulation and the cold temperature you are riding in.
Good quality socks are a must if you are routinely having this problem. Merino or polyamide blend fabrics (avoid 100% cotton) but try and keep them relatively thin, mid to lightweight, remember you need room in your shoes.
Also pedalling technique and body position will be contributing to your bodies ability to circulate blood and keep flow into your feet.
Prevention & Relief…
Technique – foot position & how to pedal – ankle movement/heel drop/your toes need to wriggle. Get up out of your seat to change your movement. You may need to stop and have a walk around to get the blood flowing/relieve the impingement.
Shoe Fit – too tight or any pressure points to begin with will only get worse on the bike. Loosen your shoes, particularly if you are riding in heat. Also be aware of any size difference between your feet. If one foot tends to go numb, is this foot bigger than your other one?
Socks – a very important, often overlooked part of the issue. Thick socks combined with swelling feet can cause the feeling of numbness. Socks that are bunching up will cause pressure points. Wearing two socks for warmth – again this will restrict the room in your shoes.
Arch Support – adding arch support to your cycling shoes can help maintain a good foot shape on long rides. Especially if you already have arch support issues off the bike.
Bike Set Up – how your bike is set up and therefore how you are sitting on it. Good body position leads to good pedalling. Make some adjustments to see if you can help resolve the issue. If you believe this is the cause consider getting a professional bike fit done.
Cleats – a big part of your bike set up… if you ride clipped onto your pedals the placement of your cleats needs to be correct.
Coldness Fixes – keeping yourself warm & dry is key to keeping your feet warm. If you have circulation issues you may need to start your ride with extra layers of warm clothing so you can get and stay warm. Cover your extremities – head, neck, ears, hands – with warm, weather appropriate bike clothing (See our Be Warm page). Flexibility in your muscles and good movement across your joints will also help circulation.
Any issues your body has off the bike will be taken with you onto the bike. So if your body has history of low back, hip or knee issues or stiffness this will be contributing to your comfort on the bike.
The same goes for your feet. Tight feet and lower leg muscles should be worked on off the bike to help when you get on the bike. To follow is a short list of exercises and stretches to work on…
- Toe curls
- Calf stretches
- Rolling a tennis ball/pilates ball beneath the ball of the foot
- Foot and ankle rotations
- Plantar fascia stretches – the arch of your foot
- Heel toe raises
Attending yoga, pilates, a stretch class at the gym or having some sessions with a physiotherapist will all improve your bodies performance when you ask it to ride your bike.
Comfort & Contact Points
Your comfort while riding is a huge part of enjoying your time on the bike. It will also keep you protected & safe. There are three key points where you make contact with your bike. The seat, the handlebars and the pedals. It is important to understand how to position your body between these points
For more information see: Chi Riding: Ride Well
Correct technique is a large part of being comfortable when you ride
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