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Toes go to sleep

Has anyone else had a problem with their toes falling asleep while you are riding? I have bike shoes that I use and I’ve tried my tennis shoes. It seems my tennis shoes are better. Any advice??

9 Replies

Brian Wallenburg, June 5, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Shoe size, fit and foot placement on the pedals are the most important. I suspect you’re not clipping in if you’ve switched to tennis shoes. A very rigid shoe works best for me. Mine have a kevlar sole. Good Luck!

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Melissa Current, June 5, 2017 at 2:16 pm

Thanks Brian. I may have to go shoe shopping this weekend. I’m also going to take my bike in to make sure it is fitted correctly.

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KenH, June 5, 2017 at 3:48 pm

My feet do have issues on long rides. Not sure what to call it. They don’t go to sleep, its not really pain, as best as I can describe it they just get fatigued from pedaling.

Up until this year I wore very stiff shoes for SPD clip in pedals. Like Brian I am not sure what you are using for pedals that can use either “bike shoes” or tennis shoes although it seems unlikely that you are using clip in pedals with tennis shoes. But if you are using SPD pedals they generally have some adjustment range, front to back, on where you put the cleats so moving the cleat might help you in that case. Other clip in pedal cleats ma also be adjustable, I would not know that. In any event my issue was never severe enough to prompt me to try adjusting the cleat position. I would just soldier through the day and then my feet would feel instant relief when I got to camp and changed into normal shoes.

This year I have been using platform pedals with Five Ten mountain bike shoes. So far my issue has been less severe although it has not gone away completely. But with the platforms I can change my foot position on the pedal to get relief and that helps a lot with the residual foot complaints. Sounds like you may already be using the same kind of pedals and shoes that I switched to this year. If that is true then obviously that won’t be the solution for you. Switching to some kind of clipless pedal and their stiff soled shoes might help you as Brian suggests. We are all different so what works for me won’t necessarily work for Brian and it might be that neither of our solutions work for you.

A third solution is to use a different kind of pedal. I don’t know that clipless pedals vary significantly enough in how they interface with your shoes and feet to offer any potential for a solution. There is one flat pedal company, Pedaling Innovations, that touts their longer pedal and advocates a foot position that is more centered on your foot than the traditional ball of your foot position which seems more likely to cause “sleepy toes”. I have not used their pedals but when my feet start to complain I do move them to a position more like Pedaling Innovations advocates and it does help. It feels odd, I’m not sure I am pedaling as efficiently that way, and I move back to my normal position after a few minutes, but it does make my feet happier. So I at least find it useful much like different hand positions on your handlebars helps you manage hand numbness. I think I would need to lower my saddle height slightly to use that position full time and I think that would solve the “feels odd” problem with that foot position. That is something you can try very cheaply, if you are currently riding platforms.

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Geoff Butland, June 6, 2017 at 12:40 pm

This year I tried my first pair of bike sandals and I love them! I have clip-in pedals, with cleats on the shoes. I’ve always worn “bike shoes” and experienced problems from swelling feet, numb toes, you name it. I blame my wide feet for most of these problems – even the widest bike shoes aren’t quite wide enough it seems.
What I found was the sandal uppers will allow my feet to swell without constricting them. If they do start to feel tight I have four straps to adjust the fit. I haven’t experienced any numb toes or pain in roughly 1,000 miles of use this year.
As far as weather goes my feet were always soaked at the end of a wet ride, so sandals are really no worse. I’ve worn wool socks with the sandals on cool early spring rides (stylish, amirite?) and my shoe covers fit over the sandals if it really gets cold. The sandals do have a ventilation advantage in hot weather, so on balance I think they’re BETTER than shoes.

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aredgar, June 22, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Melissa – I’m late to the conversation, but just in case…for me resolving the issue was a simple as tightening the strap closest to the ankle (so the foot won’t push down into the toe box) and loosening any straps around the ball and arch of the foot. I use both SPD and Look-type clipless system/shoes but I think this would be true for any type shoe/pedal combo. In fact, the results Geoff describes with sandals may be related to the same effect of relieving the constriction around the foot so that swelling and/or crowding doesn’t result in stopping blood flow. As to positioning of foot on pedal, I think has more to do with other complaints such as nerve or tendon pain in arches.

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SFC JKL 2, June 22, 2017 at 11:01 pm

Cycling shoes (even sandals) have a plate in the bottom to bolt the cleats too. The solid platform is much better than your tennis shoes, especially over long distances (even if you don’t use clips). Your feet will swell over the course of a day riding, so make sure you have plenty of room.

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U Knee Cycle, June 23, 2017 at 3:36 pm

After plenty of info research on this as an amateur I found that few podiatrists are aware of the problem. The numbness in the toes is due to a compression of the nerve that runs through the middle of the foot. At the ball of the foot everything (muscles, bones, etc. ) during cycling and some other uses like ellipticals works to interfere with and even damage the nerve. For some people the damage will be permanent. For some this loss of sensation can last months rather than just disappear the next day. What people have said here about good support and room in the ball of the foot should help to avoid the problem. I use the strongest shoe sole possible with a look pedal to spread out the force. I found use of a small profile metatarsal support to make a difference. A small leather covered German-made one by Tasco is my favorite. It seems to decrease the compressive force on the nerve by keeping the ball of the foot from flattening out. It takes some trial and error to get pad placement just right. I am always tempted to place these pads too far forward, so I have learned not to just peel off the adhesive and stick the pad on the footbed. I find it important to monitor my cadence so I can keep the gears set to around a 100 cadence. Of course uphill that slows, but a higher cadence is better. Many cyclists are unaware that they use the downstroke foot to lift the other foot. Avoid this as it adds to compressive force and is wasteful. As with other issues, a well fit bike is best. The Sheldon Brown website is a good source for bike fit info. He is well aware that bike fitting is an expertise.

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Bob Kidd, June 23, 2017 at 3:45 pm

I had foot issues so I put mountain bike pedals on my bike. Seems to have fixed the problem. I never planned on clipping in. Still new to biking and don’t feel I’m ready.

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Chad Frana, June 23, 2017 at 5:04 pm

I had the same problem with the outside toes on both but more my right foot. Found out though my chiropractor that sitting on a bike seat can and in my case, was putting pressure on the opening that the nerves run though from the spine to the leg and of course the toes. I switched seats and spent many miles adjusting and now the problem is gone.

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