Six Causes of Foot Pain, Numbness, and Hot-Foot During Bicycling, and How to Solve Them

Six Causes of Foot Pain,  Numbness, and Hot-Foot During Bicycling, and How to Solve Them

Aside from saddle sores and knee pain, foot problems are among the most common afflictions of cyclists. In coaching recreational and competitive cyclists for the last three decades, I have found that there are several common reasons for foot pain, each with a relatively simple solution.

  • Problem: Hot feet or feet numb forward of the shoe straps.
    Shoes should fit like gloves, not compression garments. Tighten the straps just enough to keep your foot from floating around when you pedal and no more.
  • Problem: Feet feel compressed on every ride or only some rides. Often shoes are big enough when you first put them on or on pleasant days but become too tight when your feet swell on a long, hot ride, or when you wear thicker socks on a cold day.
    Get bigger shoes. If necessary, pick a brand that is wider for the same “size”. Wear thinner socks on hotter days and longer rides. If your feet get cold, wear thin socks with plastic bags inside the shoes rather than thicker socks, or add insulating boots outside the shoes.
  • Problem: Feet feel tense, or you claw the bottom of the shoes with your toes.
    A. Try to relax your feet. If they won’t stay relaxed, consider the following options:
    B. If you are chasing the pedals, try a slightly lower cadence (RPM).
    C. The center of the pedal should be under the strongest part of the ball of your foot, the part you’d want your weight on as you bounce on the balls of your feet on the ground. Move the cleats back towards the heel of the shoe if needed. Some shoe-cleat combinations don’t allow the cleats to get far enough back. If moving the cleats back all the way helps but doesn’t solve the problem, you may need to modify the cleats or get different shoes or pedals. If you are riding flat pedals and tend to point your toes and pedal with your toes rather than a stronger part of the foot, lower the saddle 1/8″ (3 mm) at a time until you can pedal with the ball of your foot and not extend the toes much.
    D. If shoes are too large or too loose, you will claw to gain control of the shoe. Try a smaller shoe, a narrower shoe, a thicker sock, thicker insole, a custom insole, or tighter straps.
Loosen each bolt enough so that the cleat stays pointed in the same direction but slides back slightly. Tighten snugly. Move it back incrementally, no more than a millimeter each ride.
  • Problem: Specific hotspots on the sole of the foot with possible numbness forward of that point.
    Make a cutout in the existing insole under the spot or get a softer or custom insole to correct the pressure point. You may need bigger shoes to make room for thicker insoles.
  • Problem: The toe-boxes of the shoes feel too small and squished even though they are plenty big.
    Pedaling with raised heels and dropped toes squishes your foot into the front of the shoe, inhibiting circulation and causing pain from being pressed forward.
    Lower the saddle and/or move your cleat back towards the heel.
  • Problem: It’s really cold out and your feet are freezing.
    Get some insulated toe or shoe covers ($12 – $50) or add plastic bags inside your shoes, trimmed or taped around the ankle.
A simple cycling bootie over a shoe on a cold day’s ride can make a world of different in foot comfort.

Head Coach Scott Saifer, M.S. has been doing bike fittings and helping people with bike-related pains and overuse injuries for over 30 years. Contact him for a fit!