The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Wheel of (Mis)Fortune: Cycling and Foot Injuries

Posted by on Thursday, May 24th, 2012

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There have been so many times in this blog when I have told you, “Look, it’s time to give your feet a break from running. Do something else for a while that won’t pound your feet as much. Try bicycling.” And that is true–biking is a great way to get your workout in while also taking some of the pressure off your feet. Provided you do it right, of course. If you do it wrong, well, guess what? You can injure your feet while biking, too.

What?!! Is nothing safe?!!

Well, yes, plenty of things are safe if you them right. As I said, if you do it wrong you’ll get hurt. So let’s find out what you can do to protect your feet while you train for the Tour De Around the Park and other feats of endurance.

What kind of foot injury can you get while biking? Think about it. You’ve got your foot on a pedal. You keep on pushing that pedal with your foot. Now that’s no big deal if you’re riding to your kid’s school (unless you’re kid goes to school on a different coast), or if you’re in a 45 minute spin class. But if you are clocking some serious mileage every week day then doing hundred mile events on the weekend, you’re putting a lot of pressure on the ball of your foot. After a while, you may begin to experience what is commonly known as “Hot Foot.”

Thank you! People often tell me my feet are sexy. No, not that kind of hot.

Oh, well, anyway. What kind of hot? Like a painful burning sensation, with some numbness mixed in. This is actually metatarsalgia, a painful condition that comes from putting pressure on the heads of the metatarsals, or the long bones that run from your foot to the base of your toes. Riding a bicycle intensely for a long period of time is almost like constantly digging standing on the balls of your feet and just pushing down over and over.

What can I do about it?! Should I start running on my forefeet on extremely hard surfaces instead? No! Here are some things to try:

  • Shoes – First, make sure you’re wearing the right kind of shoes. Again, you don’t need to worry about shoes if all you do is rent a bike on vacation, but if you’re really planning to cycle seriously almost every day, you should make sure you have the right equipment. You wouldn’t run in flippers, right? So get cycling shoes that will offer the right kind of support for your feet–and make sure they fit by getting them at a store that focuses on cycling equipment so a pro will be able to help you make a decision. There should be enough room in the toe box for the toes to spread out comfortably; cramped toes will contribute to metatarsalgia. When you do have the right shoes, make sure you don’t have them strapped on too tight. Try loosening those a little if you are feeling foot pain.If you’re in this sport for the long haul (both literally and figuratively), you may want to consider investing in custom made shoes. You can also get extra-wide cleats that will help spread around the pressure on your foot.
  • Socks – Wear good socks made for sports, not those acrylic argyle ones you found at the bottom of your drawer which have the sole virtue of being clean. Try different thicknesses to see what feels right for you–some people need thicker socks, while others feel better with thinner socks (here’s a story about a cyclist who needed thinner socks).
  • See a podiatrist – If you are feeling a lot of pain in your feet, then the best thing to do is see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to get an accurate diagnosis and make sure there aren’t any other issues with your feet. A podiatrist can help treat the pain with ultrasound or lasers, and then discuss other options for helping alleviate the pain. One common option may be orthotics such as a metatarsal pad that will provide a cushion for your forefoot when you push down. A podiatrist can also prescribe custom insoles that have a small bump in the metatarsal area. This helps by pushing apart the metatarsal heads, which gives the nerves more room (I had orthotics like this for my running shoes and they helped a lot for a long time. Until I wore them out. Oh well.)Podiatrists at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) can also address any biomechanical issues you have that may be causing foot pain, such as overpronation that causes knee pain, or common overuse injuries such as shin splints or Achilles tendinitis. Orthotics can help alleviate these as well; a stretching program can also be of benefit.And speaking of biomechanics–make sure you have the bike seat at the right height for you! A lot of problems can start here. .

So as you can see, things can go wrong with even the most benign sport. If you’ve embarked on a life of cycling and feel foot pain, or have foot issues from any other sport, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.

 

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.