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Sole Searching: What’s Causing Your Foot Numbness?

Sole Searching: What’s Causing Your Foot Numbness?

Too many cyclists suffer foot numbness during long or hard rides. If you are one of them, here is a handy guide to discerning what’s causing the problem, and how to fix it.

It’s difficult to discuss this topic without going into a full-blown lesson on anatomy, nerve distribution and biomechanics. There are dozens of combinations of issues that can cause it, so I will focus on the “D.I.Y Aspect of Foot Doctoring, 101.”

Before writing this article, I perused the Internet to see what people were saying and recommending. I found many anecdotes that, while surprisingly informative, fell all over the proverbial map. And so began my quest to pack all of the relevant information into one little easy-to-swallow pill.

First and Foremost

    1. Start with a good bike fit and see a professional bike fitter if at all possible. This can solve about half of all problems.
    2. Proper footwear. To get a proper shoe fit, always bear full weight on your foot when being measured. Wear the socks you normally would wear when cycling. Have both feet measured and go with the larger size.

      Ill-fitting shoes and socks that are too thick can be the cause of numbness in the toes and at the top of the foot. Also, consider the width of the toe box of the shoe. If it is too narrow, this can be the cause of toe numbness.

    3. Stretch it out! Stretch before, during, and after a ride. Tight muscles can impinge nerves. Get out of the saddle more. Pull your feet back into the heel counter of the shoe and spread your toes periodically.

    4. “Hot spots” are different than foot numbness. Hot spots are caused by friction.  Usually the foot is sliding around in the shoe. Be careful that your shoe is not too large or sloppy. If you’re sure the shoe fits OK, go with a good insole that forms well to your foot or consider custom insoles. A good sock goes without saying.

Numbness Location: Top of the Foot
Causes: Too tight or poorly-oriented shoe straps; High-arched foot
Solution: Different style shoe enclosure with softer straps

Numbness Location: All of the Toes
Cause: Shoes too flexible with too small cleat
Solution: Stiffer shoe and/or wider cleat

Cause: Cleat position too far forward, aft saddle position
Solution: Move cleat back

Cause: Heel-up toe pedaling (ballerina style)
Solution: Too far aft position tends to make you cram your foot forward in the shoe

Cause: Poor cycling mechanics
Solution: Just a slight heel-up position is best

Cause: Flat feet
Solution: Work on even, constant pressure on the pedal through the entire revolution

Cause: Gripping too hard with your toes
Solution: Arch support insole with metatarsal support insole with metatarsal support/Relax your toes

Numbness Location: Big Toe Only
Causes: Flat feet; Bunion (a large bump on the inside of the big toe)
Solution: Arch support insole with metatarsal support

Numbness Location: Just a Couple of Lesser Toes
Causes: Hammertoes (contracted toes); Neuroma (a swollen nerve between toes)
Solution: An arch support insole with a metatarsal pad may help

Numbness Location: Bottom of the Foot Only
Cause: Flat feet
Solution: Arch support insole with metatarsal support slight heel-up position is best

Causes: Heel-down pedaling (strains the nerve behind the ankle); Saddle height too low (can cause heel-down pedaling); Tarsal tunnel syndrome
Solution: Raise saddle height (roughly 25? of knee bend at the bottom of the pedal stroke)

Numbness Location: Back of the Leg and Into Bottom of the Foot or Heel
Cause: Saddle too high (causes hips to rock side to side and impinge sciatic nerve)
Solution: Lower saddle until hips stay relatively even through the pedal stroke

Causes: Poor saddle choice; Sciatica; Back problems
Solutions: Trial and error here, folks. Just make sure your seat bones are equally supported.

Numbness Location: Front of the Lower Leg and Into the Top of the Foot
Cause: *E.I.C.S. (Exercise-Induced Compartment Syndrome). This can cause not only numbness but weakness of the muscles that lift the foot.
Solution: See a doctor

* Medical cause that may require seeing a specialist/podiatrist. There is great information about these and other foot problems at FootPhysicians.com.


Jason Suppan, DPM, runs the Suppan Foot & Ankle Clinic in Orrvile, Ohio. The 40-year-old podiatrist is a competitive singlespeeder.

Solutions for Numb Toes While Cycling

Solutions for Numb Toes While Cycling

By Gale Bernhardt

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 aboutnumb 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.

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.

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.

 

New Study Shows Link Between Exercise and Lowered Cancer Risk

New Study Shows Link Between Exercise and Lowered Cancer Risk

Getting and staying fit could help prevent lung and colorectal cancer

Reprinted from Bicycling Magazine

MOLLY HURFORD

Get Lean Now

Riding regularly could not only help prevent cancer, but also increase your chances of surviving it.

(Photo by Beardy McBeard)

We all know that cycling—or any exercise—is beneficial to our health. And now, according to a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, logging those miles may be helpful in preventing cancer.

The study looked at nearly 14,000 men, and the results concluded that those who had a higher fitness level as they approached middle age were at a lower risk for lung and colorectal cancer as they aged. And just as important, the men who did have cancer but had a higher exercise level were more likely to survive, even when they were diagnosed later in life.

The study was headed by Susan G. Lakoski, M.D., M.S., of the University of Vermont in Burlington. The researchers looked at the link between high or low levels of exercise mid-life and cancer diagnosis (as well as survival rates after diagnosis).

The study includes 13,949 men who had a baseline fitness exam done with a treadmill test. Fitness levels were assessed between 1971 and 2009 and then lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers were assessed using Medicare data from 1999 to 2009.

Using the data collected, the researchers were able to see that high cardio fitness during middle age was associated with a 55 percent lower risk of lung cancer and a 44 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer compared to men with low exercise levels.

Results also indicated that those who worked out regularly had a 32 percent lower rate of cancer death (meaning they were diagnosed but successfully treated).

Moral of the story? Riding regularly may save your life!

Mind Your Manners Please

Mind Your Manners Please

Being raised in the South has many advantages: spending summers in the swimming pool, not having to shovel snow 3 months out of the year and being taught good manners. “Yes ma’am” was the only acceptable answer to many questions posed by our mothers – whether or not that was the reply we wished to give!

As a society we have become more casual and more lax. Rules don’t seem to apply to some folk. As a whole our attitude, attire and work ethic seems to have taken a back seat to common decency. What is going on?!
Of course, as cyclists, we would never be rude on the road - or would we? Today we are going to visit some basic manners of road riding.

Don’t Be a Road Hog
Riding two abreast is allowable by law so long as it doesn’t impede traffic. This does not mean that you should have three feet between you: this means shoulder to shoulder in a nice, tight double pace line. If your skills are not up to par for this then practice with just one other person until you are comfortable and safe with being so close to another rider. It really ticks drivers off to have us take the entire lane and not give them space to pass safely. Most drivers are afraid of us – unsure of what we may do next. Be predictable, be safe and above all – be NICE to the drivers who give you plenty of room.

Do Be an Ambassador 

When on a ride, why not wave to a car as they pass you? Most often I do to say “Thank you for not killing me!” The driver only sees a friendly hand wave and hopefully has a nice impression of cyclists. When you go to a convenience store, speak with the workers – or better yet, purchase something. When you see kids at a bus stop, be sure to smile and say “HI!”. One of them could be a future cyclist because you showed them kindness. Talk with other non-cyclists about what they think of us on the road. You just might be surprised by their answers.

Don’t Be a Litter Bug
Please stick your Gu packets back in your pockets when you empty them. Remember the Boy Scout rule of leaving the area nicer than you found it? While it’s not expected to pick up trash on the roadside during a ride, can you not at least pick up behind yourself? Sure you can! I was on a ride when a Kleenex fell out of my back pocket (unbeknownst to me) and another person in our group went back to pick it up. Thankfully, it was unused.

As cyclists, we have often have a reputation of being aggressive, arrogant and above the law. We get upset when motorists are rude to us but how many times are we in err? Let’s make a decision in 2013 to ride aware of others and to make a good impression on those with whom we share the road.

Be safe and make us all look good!
Resources:
http://www.adventure-journal.com/2012/05/poll-whats-the-worst-thing-about-road-cyclists/

http://www.womenscycling.ca/blog/sheila-psychling/unofficial-rules-of-cycling-etiquette/

 

About Me

Tracy Draper Stradelli 200 Tracy Draper HLM 200 Tracy and Goldilox at the Bakery 200
As a gymnast,I had learned a hard work ethic and had some natural talent but I had one big obstacle: I liked to eat. I was very strong and graceful, with about 15-20 extra pounds. The battle ensued until I was around 35 and began to take my health a bit more seriously. In 2006 I began competing in triathlon events and the sleeping competitor within woke up. My kids were getting older and I could focus on being an athlete once again – something that I never thought could occur. I won a few Master’s Titles in Sprint Triathlon races – it was incredibly empowering! In 2009, following a ruptured disk, I gave up running and focused on Aqua Bike events where I won a few more titles in local races. In 2010, I joined a local cycling group and got bitten by the bug. Now cycling is my passion. My personal goals: ride cross-country, ride up Pike’s Peak in Colorado. Work goal: to encourage and inspire others to reveal the slumbering athlete within!

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