After a long ride, you may expect some soreness in your arms and legs as the result of supporting your upper body and cranking the pedals. What you don't expect is pain in your toes. Soreness in the toes may be caused by the wrong type of equipment, but it could be a sign of an injury. Evaluating the type of pain will help you pinpoint the source. If you have any sharp or long-lasting pain in your toes, see your doctor.
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If you have a dull pain in your toes and a sense of pressure against them during or after a ride, your cycling shoes are probably too tight. Because cycling shoes rarely stretch and your foot swells when you exercise, a shoe that can feel comfortable in the shop or before a ride can become too tight as you ride. For the best fit, try on cycling shoes in the late afternoon when your feet are at their largest. The shoes should have a glove-like feel around your mid-sole and heel, but you should be able to wiggle your toes. This extra wiggle room provides space for your toes as your feet warm up.
Feeling the Burn
Sometimes during long rides you'll feel as if your foot is burning hot. This may start in the ball of your foot and move into your toes. This condition, known as "hot foot," is caused by too much pressure on the nerves in the foot. This pressure can come from tight shoes, flexible soles or small pedals. If your cycling shoes fit properly, loosening the straps can help relieve some of the pressure. On long rides, choose cycling shoes that have a stiff bottom to distribute the pressure, or insert specialized orthotics into your shoes to disperse the pressure. If the pain continues, consider installing larger pedals to reduce the pressure.
Needles and Pins
You may not notice numbness in your toes until after a ride. Once you take your shoes off, a needles-and-pins sensation running from your toes is a good indicator that your shoes are too tight. This could be a sizing issue -- in which case you'll need to shop for a new pair of cycling shoes -- but you could simply be cinching your shoes too tight. Once the straps or laces of your shoes are fastened, your feet should feel comfortable and not constrained.
Toe Numbness and Leg Pain
Although most toe numbness is simply a sign to loosen your shoes, numbness accompanied by sharp leg pain could be a sign of acute compartment syndrome. With this condition, pressure within the muscles blocks your blood supply and can lead to irreversible tissue damage. If you notice this type of pain, treat it as an emergency and seek medical care immediately.
Chronic or Sharp Pain
Chronic pain from the ball of the foot into the toes or sharp pain localized around the big toe are signs of metatarsalgia. If you have this condition, you'll feel pain not only when cycling but also whenever you place pressure on your foot. The pain may get worse as you flex your toes. Metatarsalgia -- rarely a direct result of cycling -- typically is caused by improper foot mechanics. Treatment consists of physical therapy, cortisone, orthotics and rest.