After a vigorous workout, noticing numbness in the sides of the big toes may be an unwelcome surprise. While toe numbness after heavy exercise is common, it is not a normal condition of the feet. Poor form during exercise, ill-fitting shoes, your personal bio-mechanics and even the types of exercise that you're doing can all contribute to this problem.
When a person exercises, problems with their exercise form can create stress on the toes. Not following a full range of motion while in stride may cause injuries and pain in the big toes. Poor posture such as not standing up straight, leaning forward or putting all of your weight on one foot at a time are types of poor form during exercise and may strain the nerves and blood vessels in the toes. Hyperextension of the toe at the push-off of a sprint or when coming to a sudden stop on artificial turf can cause numbness, tingling and swelling of the toes. Unusually shaped feet such as high arches may contribute to poor form due to the different center of gravity and positioning of the feet while exercising.
Wearing old, unsupportive shoes that do not support the foot's arch and toes are a leading cause of toe numbness, pain and injuries. Shoes that are too tight may cut off circulation or put too much pressure on the nerves to the toe, leading to numbness. Lacing the shoes too tightly may also cause circulatory problems or excess pressure on the nerves of the feet and toe. The trend of running barefoot or in "barefoot shoes" may cause nerve damage and toe injuries. Before buying any shoes that will be worn during exercise, take the time to try them out and walk around in them for several minutes. A shoe's toe box will not increase in size after "breaking it in." The shoes should fit properly from the get-go.
Some types of exercise put more stress on the feet and the big toe in particular. Overdoing these types of exercise or doing more than one type of exercise that puts a heavy load on the feet may lead to numbness and tingling in the big toes as well as other toe and foot issues. Some of the exercises that stress the toes include running and jogging, hiking, walking, jumping, jump rope, roller blading, football and biking. Alternating these workouts with other types of exercise such as swimming or weightlifting may help give your toes needed rest.
If you find that the numbness in your toes continues for a prolonged period or gets worse, seek medical attention. You may have incurred an injury in one of the 26 bones of the feet or in one of the many joints, tendons and ligaments that are in the vicinity of the big toe. Consider visiting a sports medicine physician who will take diagnostic x-rays and test your foot and toe range of motion, extension and flexion abilities.