How to Treat Foot and Toe Numbness When Exercising

Author: Foot & Ankle Center of Washington

Hi. Today I'm going to talk about numb and tingling feet that occur during exercise. So what we're talking about is often numbness that often occurs under the ball of the foot and up near the toes while bicycling. It often happens on an elliptical machine; less commonly it happens during running and walking type of activities. So what has happened here is a condition called compressive neuropathy. If you look at this foot, we're looking at the nerves on top of the foot here.

There is a actually a similar set of nerves right on the bottom of the foot and if there's excessive pressure on these nerves that can cause numbness and cause pressure to those nerves, damage to the nerves, and then numbness from that point of irritation forward. So the nice thing is this is usually pretty easy to treat. The first thing we want to do is take the pressure off this area. I think the first critical thing to say about this is make sure your shoes fit and make sure there's plenty of room for you, especially on bike shoes which tend to run kind of narrow.

You want to make sure there's no compression this way. So always buy your bike shoes at the end of the day. It's actually best to go for a long bike ride and then go buy shoes. The guy in the shoe store may not like you so much, but you'll get a better fitting shoe. The other option is to try on the shoes with two pair of socks.

That way you can actually start your ride wearing two pair of socks and then halfway through the ride if your feet start to get numb, you can take off one pair as your feet start to swell. So that takes care of the swelling issue. Second thing we want to do is transfer pressure off of this area. Some simple ways to do that, both that you can try yourself and if that's not enough, you can come in and see us and we can do a better job at, usually, first thing is to use an arch support in your athletic shoes whether they be bicycle shoes, again or running shoes you might use on an elliptical machine. The idea is that you want an orthotic that grabs the arch extremely tight, because we're trying to transfer pressure off of this area and get it onto the ball of the foot.

How to Treat Foot and Toe Numbness When Exercising

That's what takes pressure off of these nerves. So this is one of my favorite arch supports you can buy over-the-counter. You can find a list of our favorite ones on our website. Go to the website, click on "Self Care" and look for numb feet or tingling feet and you can find a list of everything we recommend for this problem. You can even get some sandals, the Vionic sandals that I often recommend that have some good arch support in them. You can wear those around the house, take pressure off the area.

But again, the key is to have that arch support in your athletic shoes. If the over-the-counter supports are not enough then you can use a custom orthotic. The advantage of the custom orthotics is they will conform much, much tighter to the arch of the foot.

In fact they should be air tight to the arch of the foot in order to transfer pressure from here back to here. This is one we might use in an athletic shoe or running shoe. The ones for bicycle shoes tend to be somewhat smaller since there's not as much volume in those shoes. The key here is do not live with this problem. It's an easy one to treat in most cases.

If you are in our area, make an appointment. Make sure that when you come in, to bring your cycling shoes or bring whatever shoes that you're having trouble with. Bring any arch supports or orthotics you currently are using, and we'll take a look at everything and give you ideas of what you can do to get rid of this problem. In the meantime, if you want to try treating yourself, go to the website, click on "Self Care" and look for tingling feet or numb feet.

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