FIT FRIDAY – Hot Feet or Cycling Related Foot Pain – ERIK’S TruFit

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:

Shoes:

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.

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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.

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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.

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Other Considerations:

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.

As part of the fit process, riders like Levi Leipheimer as well as average riders have their foot structure checked against how their pedaling is affected.

As part of the fit process, riders have their foot structure checked against how their pedaling is affected.

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.

 

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10 responses to “FIT FRIDAY – Hot Feet or Cycling Related Foot Pain – ERIK’S TruFit”

  1. pixi says :

    Good article but I have another consideration. Temperature.

    I used to regularly ride for long periods in low temperatures (below 5 degrees C) and found that even with the best merino socks and shoe covers, the metal cleats would suck all of the warmth out of the ball of my foot leading to a similar feeling to the numbness caused by pressure. When returned to a warm environment my toes would warm up before the small spot in the middle of my foot! I found that investing in a pair of goretex winter shoes really helped my foot as a whole but a homemade solution helped. Sticking extra insulation under the toe, cardboard, newspaper, cut up insoles from dead shoes all worked.

    • eriksbikeshop says :

      Thanks for the comment – being in Minnesota, we’ve certainly had our share of cold feet as well. Most cycling shoes are designed for warmer temps and times of the year so you’re spot on about the cleat acting as a sort of heat sink. 45 NRTH does, along with their Wolvhammer boots, an insole called the Jaztronaut that we’ve been happy with.
      In this case, we’re primarily concerned with issues of fit which can happen at any time of the year regardless of temperature. Happy riding!

  2. jc says :

    Hey I just bought some 2012 specialized swork road shoes in wide because the regular size seemed way to narrow when I put my weight on the ball of my foot and I wasn’t expecting them to stretch. But the wide in the same size seems too big. When I lift up on the pedal I can feel my foorfooot lifting off the bed of the shoe and there doesn’t seem to be enough supportover the ties as I can curl my toes quite a bit if I try. I thought wide would give me more room in the toes which it did but it seems like the whole shoe is bigger volume. Do you think this is a huge issue, Its a little concerning to me and should I go back to the smaller size and try stretching them in the toes?

    Thanks loved the article.

    • eriksbikeshop says :

      jc,

      If you stand with all your weight on the ball of one foot and then check the width, this test will give you the best information about how your foot will feel in the shoe under pedaling loads. As far as your forefoot pulling up, and being able to curl your toes, if both are minimal this should be fine as long as the heel hold is good. When pulling on the upstroke try pulling up more at the heel. Shoes with a little room are less likely to cause numb feet than a shoe that is slightly snug.

      In our experience Specialized shoes will conform a little but the material is designed specifically to not stretch over time. If the length of the shoe is correct, then I would say you have the correct size, otherwise could you to try on a half size smaller in the wide or a half size larger in the standard width? Generally wide shoes have a larger overall foot volume, a wider sole, and there is more room in the instep. You may also want to try a different level of arch support inside your shoes, this can potentially help with shoes that feel a bit roomy.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Brian Burrell says :

    I’ve been riding for about 30 yrs and have just started to have problems with my feet. I never switched to the clipless system (stubborn, I know) and have mostly used pedal straps and stiff “urban” bike shoes. It’s starting to feel like the straps are the problem (compressing my foot). Would switching to a clipless system help?

    • eriksbikeshop says :

      Hi Brian,

      From the sounds of it I would agree that the straps are the primary culprit of your foot pain; clip and strap pedals have had a long reputation with causing foot discomfort and pain.

      I’m curious though about the fact that you have been using this system for years, and only more recently have developed this feeling, has anything else changed, in your gear or how you are riding?

      But to get back to your question, Typically straps need to be pulled fairly tight to hold the foot into the pedal properly, and depending on how tightly you pull them, they can add a lot of compression to the foot over a relatively small area. Compression, weather from tight shoes or clips and straps can be problematic, because when nerves and vessels are squeezed between the Metatarsal bones it can cause pain, numbness, or hot foot. Loosening the straps should help, but will lessen your pedaling efficiency since you will not be able to pull as well as push simultaneously on the pedals.

      The other potential issue is depending on the stiffness of the shoe, the pedal itself can sometimes create a pressure ridge sensation that can be felt through a shoe softer sole. Even some cycling shoes that are designed for walking, and multi-use can be “softer’ than a pure cycling shoe, A stiff cycling shoe will distribute the pedaling load over the entire foot, and should help eliminating any pressure points from the pedal interface.

      So moving to clipless pedals may come with some new challenges, but the upside should far outweigh any negative. Assuming that your shoe fits well and has a relatively stiff and supportive sole you should be able to get back to riding pain free.

      Last note: when making the switch over to clipless, make sure to give your self some time to adapt to the new system, I found it helpful to put your bike in a stationary trainer and practice clipping in and out until you are comfortable and confident in the process before heading out for your first ride.

      Best of Luck,

      Chris

  4. Lee vGrenci says :

    Hi,

    I’m 67 and had to quit running in my 50s because of a bad back. I got into road biking and love it. While training this summer for the MS ride (150 miles in two days), I started getting pain in the metatarsal area of my left foot. I bought a new pair of road shoes (Shimano), but, alas, the pain kept coming, even after moving my cleats back toward the heel and trying two different insoles. It is very discouraging. I bought the Shimano shoes because they were slightly wider. Could you recommend a shoe that might solve my problem?

    Many thanks for answering.

    Lee

    • eriksbikeshop says :

      Hi Lee,

      Let me Start off by saying that without seeing your feet , shoes, and checking some fundamentals of your bike position it’s going to be challenging to give you a specific recommendation on shoes.

      So if your shoes are wide enough, and seem to fit well, then we have a good starting point. I’ll give you a bullet point of the things I would check first, while a new pair of shoes may help, there is a chance they may not, so I would check all of these other options first

      1. How tight do you tighten up the buckles/ Velcro , I always recommend leaving the two straps closest to the toes just barely snug.

      2. While you have tried two different insoles, depending on which ones you tried, there can be vastly different results, were they cycling specific, was there enough arch support, was there a metatarsal button? which can really help with pain in the ball of the foot and or numb toes. Sometimes new insoles can take a while to adapt to, so make sure to give them enough time to get used to them, I would say a minimum of 3 weeks. Insoles should work like a gasket between your foot and the shoe sole spreading the load over a larger area of the foot, the better the connection the more effective it will be in spreading out the load.

      3. Check your saddle height, if it’s too high, it can cause you to pedal in a more toe down position than optimal, putting more pressure on the ball of the foot

      4. Is the pain even across the foot, or is it more on one side of the foot? If it’s primarily on one side, a wedge or cant could be used to help spread out the load more evenly.

      5. Lastly, make sure to keep your cadence high, around 100 RPMs This will reduce the pressure on your feet with every pedal stroke. Also I have found it helpful to not focus on pushing through the ball of the foot, rather imagine yourself pushing through the center of your arch, this technique along with a good orthotc can be extremely helpful.

      As for my recommendation, first let me say I really like shoes with Boa closure systems, they really help limit any pressure points and allow ease of adjustment while on the bike; Many different brands are offering options with BOA closures. Otherwise I have to say I am a fan of Specialized BG shoes, they have a metatarsal button, a significant arch and a 1.5mm varus wedge built into the shoe. They have taken a unique approach to cycling shoes in that they address the most common bio-mechanical issues in all of their shoe offerings right out of the box.

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