Solutions for Numb Toes While Cycling

Are you at your wits' end because your toes go numb when you ride your bike? You're not alone. I've received three notes about numb toes over the last couple of months so I thought it was time to address the issue in more detail.

Below is an edited version of just one of the notes I received on the topic of numb toes:

Hi Gale, I'm about to buy my third pair of road bike shoes. The problem is that after 20 to 30 minutes I always get numb toes, starting with my right foot. I had a look in one of your books and it mentions the hands and the "other" area--but nothing about toes. The bike shop can't seem to help and they have done a bike fit. I seem to be set up well--but am I? Recently I've been wearing triathlon shoes which allow my feet float, so thought I'd try something more fitted. I'm frustrated and this never happened when I was a kid and just rode bare-footed. Thanks and regards, A.R.

There are several things this rider has tried to do to correct the problem, but AR has yet to find success.

If you have numb toes too, where do you begin? What do you change first?

Phase I

Numb toes can be caused by a number of items. Boiled down, your body-to-equipment interface is causing you trouble. Let's begin the troubleshooting process with the easy solutions first. In no particular order:
Toe straps: If you are wearing running shoes and a pedal platform that has a toe cage and a strap (like those on spin bikes in health clubs), try loosening the toe strap.

Shoe size too small: When many people exercise, their feet swell. If your shoes are too small, this swelling can pinch blood supply or nerves in your feet and cause numb toes. Try a shoe that is a half to a full size bigger. Be sure you wear the same type of socks to try on new shoes that you plan to wear while you cycle. Consider trying on cycling shoes right after a ride or consider riding to the shop.

Shoe size too big: If there is too much room in your cycling shoes, your feet are in constant tension, trying to maintain a powerful pedaling location within your shoes. This pressure and friction may be causing numbness. Try a shoe that is more fitted to your foot. Use the same guidelines as in the previous paragraph.

Strap location: If you are wearing a triathlon-specific cycling shoe, there is usually one top strap. This strap may be in a location that is in conflict with your foot's anatomy. Try a shoe that has multiple straps or a strap that is located in a slightly different place.

Bike fit: Be sure to get a bike fit done by a qualified fitter.

Training: Sometimes numbness can be caused by recent, and relatively big, changes in cycling volume, intensity or the combination of both.

Cleat placement: Most of the time, cleats are placed in a position that aligns the middle of the pedal spindle with the ball of the foot. The ball of the foot is the padded portion on the sole of the foot that is aligned with the bony heads of your metatarsals. This is the region of your foot that remains on the ground when you raise your heals off of the floor to stand on your tip toes. Try moving your cleat all the way towards the heel of the shoe to get the ball of your foot off of the pedal spindle pressure point. After the adjustment, the ball of your foot will be forward of the spindle.

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