Solutions for Numb Toes While Cycling

Pedaling technique: Some people "mash" the pedals rather than spin. Try unweighting your foot at the top of the pedal stroke to see if a change in technique makes a difference.

Phase II

In Phase I of troubleshooting your numb toe issue, we addressed the least complicated, least expensive and most obvious solutions. If you've gone through the list and still have numb toes, it's time to dig a little deeper.

Earlier in the column I mentioned body-bike interface as the root cause of the problem. You are unique, as you have probably already discovered or been told. More specifically, the location of the veins and nerves in your body may vary slightly, when compared to an anatomy chart. You can look at the back of your hand as an example.

The arteries in your hand may protrude, while the person next to you has arteries that lie flat. The precise location of a single artery or vein traveling across your hand may not be the same as someone else. This is also true of nerve pathways. Of course, this is true of the cardiovascular and nervous system in your lower body as well.

In addition to the nervous system and circulatory system differences, there are anatomical differences. Some examples include bow-legged, knock-kneed, pigeon-toed and duck-footed. These differences can cause one person to be comfortable when their toes point toward the center line of the bike, while another person would find that position painful.

Muscle tightness, strength imbalances, leg length discrepancies and issues such as a Morton's Neroma (enlarged nerves) further complicate proper bike fit for some people.

Andy Pruitt, author of the Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists, suggests that cyclists sit on the edge of a table and allow your feet to dangle while keeping your hips, knees and ankles at 90-degree angles. Allow your feet to hang where they want to. Mount your cleats by trying to replicate this position on the bike. Know that foot position will change when some people lean forward due to internal rotation at the hip.

Additionally, Pruitt notes that as many as 87 percent of all feet have forefoot varus. This means that the ball of the foot is elevated in relation to the outside of the foot when the foot is not bearing weight. This issue can be neutralized by custom orthotics, wedges and some shoes have built-in wedges such as the Specialized Body Geometry models.

To address special issues you might have, below are possible Phase II solutions:

Bike fit step two: The person that did your original bike fit may not be trained to deal with special fit cases. Seek a fit professional associated with a sports medicine or physical therapy center. You may be restricting blood flow or pinching nerves in your current bike position. The solution might be as simple as sitting further forward in the saddle or reducing the drop between your saddle height and handlebars.

Cleats and pedal systems: The placement of your cleats and the rotational limits, or lack thereof, may need to be changed. Some athletes change pedal systems because the system they are currently using does not suit their personal needs. This can include rotational issues and pedal platform size.

Shoes and orthotics: You may need a special shoe, wedge or orthotic to eliminate your pain.

If you are experiencing numb toes, don't give up on finding a solution. Cycling should be uncomfortable due to effort not due to equipment-body interface issues.


Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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