Why do my feet hurt?
To quote a very famous doctor
With brains in your head
and feet in your shoes
you can go in any
direction you choose
But what happens when those feet in your bike shoes are killing you and it’s so bad that you just don’t want to ride anymore, no matter what the direction? Research tells us that up to 75% of riders will complain of burning, numbness or sharp pain in the forefoot or ‘balls of their feet’ during longer rides.
Bike riding is all about forces. Producing force to get power to the pedals and controlling force to avoid stacking it around a tight switchback for example. Pain in your feet when riding is also often all about force and usually comes down to to one of two forces at play – either compressional or frictional force and sometimes a mixture of both. For some riders the ‘force is strong’ and will cause untold misery.
Compression can lurk in many different disguises. The most obvious is shoes that are too tight causing compression of the foot within the upper of the shoe. This can lead to localised nerve and blood supply compression – similar to what happens when sitting with crossed legs for too long – and you have that tell tale pins and needles feeling. Solution bigger shoes, especially check the width of the shoe.
Compression can also occur with cleats that are positioned too far forward and the resultant increase pressure under the joints of the toes. The continual, unrelenting force that occurs between the pedal and shoe interface can lead to compression of the sensitive forefoot region. Solution – set your cleats so that they are slightly behind the metatarsal-phalangeal joint (mtpj) region, this is the major ‘ball of the foot’ joint. The longer the foot, the further behind the mtpj the cleats should be.
Strangely sometimes foot pain actually has nothing to do with feet at all. Another compressional force can occur in a galaxy far, far away. A dodgy lower back can cause irritation of nerves as the exit the spine. The lumbar, or lower back nerves, are the ones responsible for the supply to the legs and feet. Compression to the nerves at this level can show up as numbness and pain in our tootsies. Check out the article on lower back pain in the adventurethoner for more information.
Frictional force is often a missed cause of foot pain and is a result of shoes that are too big and before you ask , no the shoe doesn’t have to be massively oversized to create this problem. The foot will subtly move forwards and backwards within the cycle shoe that is slightly too big and this constant shearing stress can lead to a hot, disgusting, burning foot feeling. It can really cane – even long after you’ve taken the shoes off. It is not uncommon for people to make the mistake of buying cycle shoes the same size as their running shoes. Ideally the cycle shoe is a slightly snugger fit and the old adage of a thumb width between the end of your toes and running shoes does not apply on the bike. Also make sure that the upper fits snugly to avoid vertical shift of the foot within the shoe as this can cause irritation to the nerves on the top of the foot.
So when it comes to buying cycling shoe remember the Goldilock’s Principle
Not too big
Not too small
But just right.
May the force be with you.
Train Smart. Ride Strong
(Special Thanks to Daina Clark for this article. Daina is a senior Podiatrist and Bootcamp Instructor.)