Earlier this week I was fortunate to carve out a 4 hour block of time for a long cycling workout. Being new to the sport of triathlon, 50 miles was the longest bike ride of my life! It was a really long, hot ride! The funny part was the only part of my body that hurt during and after the ride were my feet! Why is it that my feet hurt instead of my butt or legs? Turns out, I am not alone. Foot pain is much more common in cyclists than most of us realize. Biking is much gentler on my body than running, but your feet do take a pounding!
Let's investigate foot pain in cyclists just a little. I experienced a burning pain in my forefoot after about 40 miles that did not go away until about 2 hours after I got off my bicycle. Why did this happen? In my case, I sized my cycling shoes too small for the training plan. My shoes fit well when I started, but as soon as my feet started to get hot; they swelled and literally got squished by the stiffness of the shoes. At 40 miles, the nerves in between my toes were pinched and all my toes went to sleep then started to burn like they were on fire! This is commonly called metatarsalgia, traumatic neuritis or parasthesias.
Foot pain like I experienced is actually not uncommon in cyclists. This can be caused by improper placement of clips, poorly sized shoes, and certain foot deformities that require more support in the shoes. Luckily, most foot pain can be solved by bigger shoes, metatarsal padding, different socks, or custom foot orthotics. Burning pain can be a sign of a Morton's neuroma, an early stress fracture or lumbar radiculopathy (a pinched nerve in your back), so if your burning does not go away with simple solutions, quickly seek the advise of your podiatrist.
Other foot related problems seen in cyclist are plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis, which in the early stages are usually solved by raising your saddle or turning it slightly askew. Often, we wait too long to address an injury because we think it will miraculously solve itself. Long standing foot pain often requires more aggressive treatments with custom orthotics, physical therapy, injections or even surgery in severe cases.
Thankfully my foot pain completely resolved with slightly bigger shoes, a thinner sock and a small metatarsal pad. My upcoming long rides on the way to a half-Ironman triathlon in the fall should be much more comfortable and pain free!