How to prevent foot pain from cycling

November 20, 2018 5 min read

How to prevent foot pain from cycling

You might expect some muscle tenderness after a big ride, maybe some saddle soreness, but sore feet the day after a solid training ride, or worse, during a big ride, might surprise and hinder you. 

Your feet get a solid workout while you pedal. Actually, every watt of power you generate in the saddle moves through your feet in order to push your bike forward. The soreness that arises from that exertion affects the part of your foot called the plantar fascia. This is a wide band of connective tissue that runs from your heal to the ball of your foot, forming a protective layer over your arch. Because of this thick layer you can walk around barefoot, it’s designed to be flexible and to tighten and stiffen when tension is applied to your big toe or the ball of your foot, allowing a transfer or power from your body through the sole of your foot. 

Putting large amounts of stress on this tissue, like when you are cycling for example, can cause inflammation, micro tears and strain that results in painful arches. While it can impact your day, and your cycling performance, it’s easy to treat and prevent, and you should treat it, even if the pain is minor, to prevent calcium deposits building and leading to more extensive problems later on. 

What Causes Foot Pain? 

Pain in the foot arch and even in the heel of the foot is a common problem for cyclists that can be caused by a number of different reasons. The first thing to check is your footwear. 

If you usually wear orthotics then you need to be sure your cycling shoes accommodate these as existing conditions like a biomechanical issue or plantar fasciitis will affect your feet while you are riding. As well as pain in arches and heels, minor problems like heel blisters or skin soreness can result from shoes being the wrong size so make sure yours are correct and comfortable for your feet, which might mean a new purchase of shoes, it’s worth it in the long run. 

Be sure to give new shoes a proper try before you buy. Too tight shoes can severely restrict the blood flow and compress the front of your feet, causing sharp pains and numbness when you get moving and after you complete your ride. You want to be sure blood is flowing easily to allow a good circulation of blood and nutrients through your veins. Slightly too small shoes off the bike will become far too tight when you are warm, sweaty and accommodating for extra blood flow on a ride. 

How to Keep Your Feet Happy When Riding 

1. Great Socks

Having a comfortable, quality pair of sweat wicking socks and correctly fitting shoes is the first thing to look at for preventing arch problems. Make sure your foot arches are supported by utilising the different sized wedge slides that come with most quality brand cycling shoes. This way you can tailor your shoe to fit your foot comfortably. 

2. Cleats 

Your cleat position and tension are important. Take the time to set your cycling shoes up for your ride comfort and performance. The cleats on the ball of your foot should be directly in line with the axis of the pedal for best power output when you ride. If the cleats are too far forward you place extended tension on your big toe, over flexing your plantar fascia and causing that arch tension. Clip pedals are a big cause of issues here so if you are using clips, consider a change and you should see instant results. 

Well set up cleats, as well as correct bike set-up and cycling position will make all the difference for a comfortable and well supported ride. 

3. Exercise 

As always, warm up and stretching exercises for any sport are so important, we really can’t say that enough. Here are some fantastic exercises specifically to help prevent and reduce foot pain for cyclists by increasing strength and flexibility of that arch tissue. You are best to complete these very quick and easy exercises just before, and immediately after you ride as well as the day after your ride (when foot pain tends to set in). 

Toe Stretch

Use a book to help with this stretch. With your left foot, step back and extend your left toes up on a raised platform. Your left knee will be straight and your forward (right) knee bent. Keep both heels firmly on the floor. You should feel the stretch in your left calf and arch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times on each leg. You may need to increase the size of the block to get a better stretch. 

Ball Massage

The best ball to use is a Foot Rubz massage ball, however, a tennis ball or a ball of similar size will work just as well. This movement helps relieve tension and soreness from the foot arch. You can complete this technique standing or sitting, depending on how much pressure you would like to apply to the sore area. Place the arch of your foot on the ball and slowly roll in a forward and backward motion for two minutes. You can also use this technique to relieve tension or soreness in the inner, outer or middle sections of the arch. Repeat as desired. 

Sagittal Rocker 

This strengthening exercise is designed to be completed barefoot. 

Stand with feet together and step forward on one leg. As you step lift your toes, so your heel touches down first. Press to the floor firmly and roll your weight to the ball of your foot, again, keep the pressure firm. Continue rolling forward over your big toe and push off from the toe, at the same time transferring your weight to the other leg. Stay on the same foot to reverse the move. Place the big toe down, roll to ball of your foot, then the heel. Continue the forward back roll on one foot for a minute then switch to the opposite leg. 

More Help 

If you find that none of these techniques help to reduce your foot pain, book in and see a professional podiatrist, physiotherapist or osteopath who can check for underlying issues with your hips, pelvis or feet that might be causing issues. If you are issued with insole orthotics, be sure to find a comfortable fit with your bike shoes and wear them when you cycle. 

Being foot loose and fancy free on the bike? That’s freedom!

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