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  Last updated: 9/7/2015

Foot Syndromes


"Hot foot" (burning on the sole of your foot) or numb toes while cycling are the result of excess pressure on the nerves in the bottom of the foot which then leads to nerve irritation (much like the discomfort you get when you hit the nerve on the middle side of your elbow - your "crazy bone"). The causes are many - as well detailed in this article - and all, in one way or another, produce excessive pressure on the tissue (and nerves) on the bottom of your foot. The condition is often more common as we age and may be due to a loss of fat padding on the bottom of the foot.

Equipment issues, especially shoe size or tightness, are the first thing to consider. The problem may occur with a new pair of shoes or when you increase the distance your are riding (more time on the bike magnifies minor irritations you might not notice on shorter rides). Other things to consider are: Riders with high arches or who over pronate are at risk as they experience more pressure on the ball of the foot. I personally get discomfort on the lateral (outside) of my foot at the base of the fifth toe. So this comment from the article is a personal possibility for me - "......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." So when I am putting more pressure on my pedal, it is the outside of my foot that takes the brunt of the excessive force.

Two things generally cause my hot foot. First is my pedal stroke. When I am riding into a head wind, or trying to keep up with a fast group, I tend to keep more pressure on my foot through the full cycle of the pedal rotation (do not unload as much on the upstroke). The second is riding on chip seal (a rough road surface found frequently in the western US). I think it is clear why the first leads to more problems, the chip seal is less clear. With the rough surface I may be keeping more pressure on my foot throughout the pedal rotation. I know I slow down a mile per hour or so on chip seal and I may unconsciously be trying to maintain my normal riding speeds by pedaling harder.


Quick fixes might include:

Q.I started cycling about 3 months ago. In those 3 months I have racked up 593 miles. I ride almost everyday. I just completed 31 yrs but in good shape (thanks to the Marines). On the last ride (45 Miles) I did a few days ago at less than a few hundred yards away from reaching home I experienced a severe pain on the outer side of my right foot; it was so painful I couldn't walk. I took a couple pain meds and soaked it in hot water. I have rested now for two days but I still feel soreness when I put pressure on it. Should I be concerned? this is my average distance and I have experienced numbness when I first started but nothing like this. I have also completed an 80 mile ride in about 3hrs and didn't feel this type of pain. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Ed.

A.My suspicion is that this is a combination of several issues. First, the numbness that you noticed suggests that your shoes may not fit as well as they might, or that the way your sole hits the shoe is putting pressure on one of the plantar nerves. Hot foo/numb foot is a common problem for some cyclists, and can occur even with good fitting shoes - being related to how the pressure of pedaling is distributed across the bottom of your foot. Add in poorly fitting shoes or a foot that needs an insert or custom footbeds to even out the pressure and you are on your way. And it sounds as if you have a fairly aggressive training program (remember the 10% per week increase in training per week that I mentioned as being the best to minimize overuse injuries?) and the problem is aggravated. Back off a little on the riding and consider an insert (custom or otherwise). Let me know what happens.


The position of your cleats on your cycling shoes determines the comfort of your feet, ankles, knees, hips and back. Once you clip into your pedals, the path that your leg "tracks" during the pedal stroke is locked in, and misaligned cleats send stress up from your foot up your leg to your low back with every pedal stroke.

"When mounting cleats, you want your feet to feel straight when clipped into the pedals," says Sean Drake, an exercise physiologist who works with the U.S. National Triathlon and Cycling Teams. "When setting fore-aft cleat position, the ball of your foot should be directly over the pedal axle." Cleats positioned too far forward on the shoe will generate excessive ankle movement, and can cause in Achilles strain.

Side-to-side adjustment is based on personal preference - usually, the narrower stance, the better, but start somewhere in the middle and see what feels right. Make sure there is minimal yet adequate clearance between crank arm and your shoe. Too far away is awkward, and if the shoe touches the crank it will eventually wear a grove there.

Everyone has a natural angle that each of their feet prefers to be at. Some are duck-footed, some are pigeon-toed. When you walk or ride without cleats, your foot assumes this angle. It is important that the cleat is adjusted so as to permit your foot to be at its natural angle. This is less of an issue if you ride pedals with "float" (limited rotational freedom) in the cleat attachment. Most newer clipless pedals offer at least some float.

It may take some time to find the ideal cleat position. Initially go for easy rides to check the position and ensure it's right for your knees. If you feel any stress or strain, change the angle slightly to eliminate discomfort. The rule-of-thumb is to continue adjusting your cleats until you feel no torsional, or "twisting," stress in your leg as you pedal. Listen to your body.

For optimum cleats positioning, you can visit a bicycle shop that utilizes The RAD, or Rotational Adjustment Device. This tool is widely regarded as one of the most reliable methods for setting the cleat position on the cycling shoe allowing for the rider's natural gait.

For additional thoughts on cleat positioning see the section on knee pain.


Being the farthest parts from your "core" and with a long leg to allow the blood to cool, feet can be hard to keep warm on cold day's ride. Two simple things you can do on any ride to keep them just a little warmer. First, periodically pull up on your pedal stroke. This lifts your feet inside your shoes and relieves pressure on the soles allowing warm blood to circulate. Just a few strokes will help. Second, if things are going downhill fast, walk your bike for a minute. Same idea - a change in pressure on the sole of the foot allows better circulation.

Questions on content or suggestions to improve this page are appreciated.

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