Why do my feet hurt on my bike? What can I do about it?

Riding your bike shouldn’t hurt! Comfortable cyclists are happy cyclists and faster cyclists!

As a cyclist or triathlete, do you ever get “hot spots” on your feet? Do one or both feet hurt, get numb or tingly when you’re riding? It shouldn’t happen. There are many things that can cause it and fix it. Poor fitting shoes, screws poking through the bottom of the shoe, Morton’s neuroma (nerve tumor between toes 2&3), past foot, leg or back injuries, cleat placement, and pedaling technique, just to name some.

One aspect of bike fitting with Quest that is different than many other bike fits in the Knoxville area is our thorough assessment of the foot-pedal interface. Your feet make up 40% of your contact points on the bike, with your hands and saddle being the other 60%. So a bike fit that doesn’t thoroughly assess your feet, cleats, shoes and pedals is not truly a complete bike fit.

In this first picture, a bike fit client has a forefoot tilt of 20 degrees compared to the back of the foot. If your foot rests with this much tilt in the front half, when you pedal, your foot and ultimately the rest of your leg will rotate and twist until your foot becomes flat at the bottom of the pedal stroke. This inward collapsing motion can create hot spots on your feet, ankle pain, knee pain, and/or hip pain over time. Unless your feet and pedal stroke are assessed, this common cause of pain may be missed, even if the rest of your bike fit is great. Also, many people’s feet are not the same structure, so one foot may have a greater amount of tilt and require different solutions with wedges to get both sides comfortable and tracking optimally to alleviate or reduce the risk of pain.

“What are wedges and how does this help my pain?”

With a tilted forefoot, the foot will collapse down and in to the middle until the foot becomes flat at the bottom of the pedal stroke. This collapsing of the foot then causes the knee to dive in to the middle. That can put extra pressure on parts of the foot, as well as cause stress on the inside of the knee. It can increase tension on the outer part of the knee and lead to pain with the numerous repetitions of each pedal stroke on a ride. The cleat wedges are lightweight pieces of plastic, shaped like your cleats and go between the cleat and the outside bottom of your shoe. So the cleat is still flat going into the pedal, but the shoe is supported on a slight angle to match the tilt of your foot. The wedges fill the gap between where your foot rests in its normal position and the pedal. This alleviates the stress created by your foot collapsing in to reach flat on the pedal. There are also in the shoe wedges we can use to optimize your position and pedaling.

“Are wedges the same as shims?”

As we use the terminology from our BikeFit products, no, they are not the same. Wedges are just that – wedge shaped – thicker on one side and thinner on the other. Shims are equal thickness side to side and are used under cleats to correct for a leg length difference. There are 5 cleat adjustments that can be made as part of our bike fitting process and we look at all 5 to make sure you get optimal comfort and performance on your bike.

“What if I still have pain on the bike that bike fit didn’t fix?”

As a bike fitter and doctor of physical therapy, if cleat or in the shoe wedges to accommodate your foot tilt don’t alleviate your foot or leg pain, as a movement and body expert, I can also assess other physical sources of your pain and help you determine what types of things you may need to do off of the bike to get relief.

Don’t let your feet keep bothering you on your rides! Contact us about your bike pain issues and ask how we can help.

Photo credit: BikeFit.com for leg illustrations

Dr. Jeanne Williams, PT, DPT, OCS
We help endurance athletes (from beginners to pros) train and cross the finish line faster and injury-free!

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