Cyclists often assume the cold or their clipped-in shoes still cause numb toes while cycling, and maybe tingly feet, too. This numbness in the toes and feet are two common issues reported by cyclists. And while they may seem like an easy issue to solve on a casual ride, if they occur regularly, they can take away from your enjoyment. More than that, they can be a sign that a cyclist needs to refit their shoes and change their bike set-up.

So, to help you sidestep this issue, here’s everything you should know about numb toes and feet while cycling, including what causes it and how to remedy the problem.

Common Causes of Numb Toes and Feet While Cycling

Toe and foot numbness on the bike often has two main causes: nerve compression or blood circulation restriction, Scott Holz, senior program manager for Specialized Bicycle Components and a leading bike fit expert tells Bicycling.

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There are several factors that can cause nerve compression including, “the cleat placement, improper arch support (too much or too little), or shoes that are too tight or especially too narrow, and the incorrect pedal stance width,” says Holz. He’s even seen cleat bolts that were too long for the thickness of the sole pressing into the bottom of riders’ feet, which can cause numbness.

Your riding posture may also have a lot to do with foot pain or numbness. “When you’re on the bike, there is lot of stress around the low back and pelvis, and a reasonable number of cyclists develop a type of foot numbness that is referred from the back when nerves there are pinched,” says Mark Gallagher, a podiatrist with Pure Sports Medicine in Kensington, United Kingdom.

While it’s certainly possible to ride through numbness, it’s better to identify its cause to both solve the problem and prevent any potential lasting nerve damage.

“Anytime nerve compression is ignored, there is a chance of lasting damage,” says Holz. “One such issue is Morton’s neuroma, when one of the plantar nerve branches develops scar tissue as it tries to protect the nerve from the compression.” The result: lasting or permanent pain and numbness. If your shoes are too narrow, this can exacerbate the condition, but metatarsal button additions to the insole can help.

Dress footwear (pointy shoes and tall heels) can also contribute to this condition off the bike, he adds.

Numbness and tingling can also be a sign of blood circulation restriction, which is “more commonly related to poor fitting shoes or footbeds, or temperature as the feet are often the first part of the body affected by cold temps on a bike,” says Holz.

Riding with different shoes or changing the way you sit on the bike, even temporarily, can help you figure out why your feet and toes are calling out to you.

How to Address Numb Toes or Feet While Cycling

While knowing the cause is important for a long-term solution, there are ways to alleviate the issue midride if your feet start to feel numb (although these quick fixes won't work if you’re in the middle of a competition).

Holz suggests first trying to loosen your shoes, especially in heat. “This will release both compression and help circulation,” he says. Sometimes getting off the bike and simply massaging the feet will also help.

If you need to do these two things frequently, “then something is not right with the foot-bike interface, as this degree of discomfort is not normal,” he says.

For a long-term solution, Holz has three key tips for preventing your feet and toes from going numb, since numbness while riding is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You might even want to go to your local bike shop to experiment with different equipment.

Make Sure Your Shoes Fit

The stiff soles of cycling shoes are great for power transfer, but that means your toes aren’t doing much work while you’re pedaling. Your toes need extra wiggle room to account for swelling, and the shoes should also be comfortable and have no pressure points.

“If you have pressure points just trying the shoes on, they seldom get better on the bike. Most cycling shoes are made of materials that are not meant to stretch much, but this also means they don’t ‘break-in’ that much either, so they should be comfortable from day one, or they are probably the wrong shoe,” says Holz.

Gallagher also suggests asking about different cleats and pedals at your trusted local bike shop, as they should have great knowledge of the interaction of the foot with the bike.

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Replacing the stock low-profile footbed in most cycling shoes will support your arches in a neutral position. Many cycling shoes come with a variety of arch supports you can try, or you can replace the entire insole with an over-the-counter option like SOLE moldable insoles.

“Footbeds not only prevent arch collapse which can increase efficiency, they also help distribute pressure over the entire area of the sole, and this removes pressure points that cause nerve compression or circulation loss,” says Holz.

The mechanics of the foot while cycling are different from land-based activity, and “the role of orthotics needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis depending on the problems that the cyclist is experiencing,” says Holz. In some cases, they can mitigate numbness and tingling, but insoles aren’t a blanket cure, and they may not be right for everyone, so he suggests working with a professional or a podiatrist to figure out what’s best for you.

Get a Professional Bike Fit

It’s hard for a novice cyclist to self-diagnose the minute details of the way they sit on a bike, so having a certified bike fitter take a physical assessment of your mechanics and foot structure can help determine what’s causing foot and toe issues.

“A seat position that is too high or low, or an undiagnosed leg-length discrepancy, can put extra stress on your back and hips, pinch nerves, and contribute to symptoms like numbness and tingling,” says Gallagher.

A professional bike fit generally includes a detailed look at other numbness-causing factors like cleat position, stance width, and posture and costs anywhere around $200 to $500 depending on the shop, fitter, and level of customization.

Headshot of Michael Nystrom
Michael Nystrom
Freelance Writer

Michael Nystrom is a two-time IRONMAN finisher and a former editor at Active Network, Muscle & Performance and Oxygen Magazine. He covers all things cycling, from the Tour de France to new product releases, and has been published by USA Triathlon, Under Armour, Polar, Triathlete Magazine and more. When not swimming, cycling or running, he’s catching some waves or chasing his dog, Dingo.