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Why Do I Get Numb Feet When Running?

There’s nothing more annoying than starting a run and realizing that your feet hurt. As much as you might think it would be better for your running if you could just feel nothing, that is definitely not the case. In fact, losing feeling can be a big problem. If you have suffered numbness in your feet and you’re wondering what in the world happened, read on!

We’ll cover common reasons why feet and toes go numb when running. You’ll be able to test these different situations yourself to help focus in on what is causing your feet to go numb. Then, you’ll be able to enjoy running pain – and numbness – free!

It’s Not Just One Thing

First, it’s important to remember that multiple things can cause numb feet. Homing in on the cause of the problem is key to diagnosing and fixing the problem. Isolate each of these options, one by one, so that you can either rule it out or identify it as the culprit.

Shoes

If your feet are numb, there’s a good chance that it’s due to your shoes. That’s the most common cause of numbness of feet. It can happen due to several factors.

Laces That Are Too Tight

The first thing to try is adjusting how you lace your shoe. Some runners pull them super tight to make sure that their ankle is secure. If this is you, you might be trapping your nerves on the top of your foot at your ankle.

This is especially likely if you have high arches. Try loosening your laces and running for a short distance to see if that solves the problem. You can also add some padding under the shoe tongue. If either of these two options fix things, then you don’t have to go any further.

As a long-term solution, to try various lacing techniques to figure out what works best for you and doesn’t hurt your feet. Ask your friends how they lace their running shoes. That’s what I did, and I’ve never had any problems.

Shoes That Are Too Small or Narrow

If it’s not your shoelaces, it might be the shoe itself. If you’re new to running and purchased a running shoe in the same size as your street shoes, it’s probably a half to a whole size too small. Go to a running store and get fitted for properly sized shoes.

It could also be the toe box. Make sure that it’s wide enough for your toes to splay out a bit with each step. If you have bigger feet to begin with, you might need shoes with an extra large toe box. You might want to try Altra or another shoe that’s known for roomy toe boxes.

Don’t forget that your feet are going to swell when you run. This is even more true if you’re running outside in the afternoon in the summer. You might also need some additional room if you’re wearing thick socks in the winter.

In other words, different seasons might make you more prone to numb feet. If you only tend to get numb feet during particular times of the year, definitely check your shoes first before trying anything else.

To make sure that your foot has plenty of room, you’ll need to get a shoe that is large enough to accommodate all of this so that you don’t have to worry about numbness in your feet.

Shoes That Don’t Have Enough Room with an Orthotic

Do you run with an orthotic in your shoes? If the laces and shoes are fine, it might just be that your shoe is too small to fit an orthotic in. So, if you wear orthotics, check that there is enough room in the shoe. If not, you’ll need to get a roomier pair of shoes.

If you have an appointment with your podiatrist soon, you could always take any running shoes that you use in to see if he or she thinks an orthotic will work with them. Maybe you had a pair of running shoes where the orthotic fit, but you got a new pair, and it’s not the same.

Running Form

Many discomforts that you can experience when running come down to running form. If you’ve ruled out your shoes, next you should turn to how you’re running. If you overstride and heel-strike, you’re more prone to numb feet. Landing on the ball on your feet can also cause numbness.

The “simple” solution is to start improving your running form. If you try to do it yourself and aren’t successful, ask a running coach or more experienced runner to help. Be careful, though: changing your running form is more difficult than it sounds, and can take time. Be patient; it’s worth it.

Start by shortening up your stride. Make sure that you’re landing in the middle of your foot, with your foot directly below your center of gravity. Shortening your stride so that it’s light and quick will help you land better on your feet. 

Training

Suppose that your form is great and your shoes are fine. It could be how you’re training that is leading to your feet feeling numb. You might need to slow things down or start warming up and stretching more.

Overtraining

This can happen whether you’re a seasoned runner or new to running. However, if you’re just getting into running, there’s a good chance that you might be amping up too quickly and overdoing it.

If you suddenly increase intensity and/or the distance of your runs, you might be causing muscle trauma, particularly to your  foot muscles. Take a step back in distance and intensity and see how your feet respond.

If your feet go back to normal, you can incrementally increase your mileage and intensity. If you still feel like you’re pushing too hard, try a walk/run program if you’re just getting into running. And follow the 10% rule. Don’t increase your overall mileage by more than 10% each week.

Muscle Tightness

Even if you’re not overtraining, you might not be including elements in your routine that will help alleviate muscle tightness. For example, you might be going straight into a run without spending any time warming up or stretching. Or maybe you never cool down.

You’re setting yourself up for failure by not including these important elements into your routine. Start adding in a 5-10 minute warm up including dynamic stretching and a 5-10 minute cool down with some gentle walking and stretches that you ease into.

This is especially important if you sit at a desk all day because your muscles are more apt to be tight. For example, tight calves can restrict blood flow to your feet.

Even if you are already stretching and spending time warming up/cooling down, try foam rolling to relieve tightness. Start adding flexibility exercises like yoga into your running routine. You might even want to consider getting a massage if you’re able to financially.

Injuries/Medical Issues

If you’ve ruled out everything else, it’s time to look at injuries and medical issues. In these cases, you’ll want to speak with a medical professional to make sure that you’re getting the treatment you need.

Morton’s Neuroma

This issue is the less serious of the two, and it’s more common in women than men. Morton’s neuroma occurs when a nerve between the toes in your foot gets larger and thickens due to scar tissue. 

It often develops between the third and fourth toes, or the second and third toes, although the latter is less common. If you’ve been wearing shoes that don’t fit for a long time, there’s a good chance that this has occurred, but it is easily treated.

You’ll have to see your primary care doctor or podiatrist to help with treatment. There’s a good chance that he or she may prescribe metatarsal pads. You’ll wear these inside your shoes, and they will help take pressure off of your nerves.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Your doctor or podiatrist, however, might determine that you have a more serious condition of peripheral neuropathy. This is when the nerves that help to transmit information from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body are damaged. This is a serious medical problem.

Runners sometimes discover that they have diabetes through numbness of their feet, as this is a common symptom. If you have ruled everything else out, you likely have a medical condition that makes it painful to run.

If the pain never goes away, then peripheral neuropathy is a possible culprit. Only a doctor will be able to properly diagnose serious medical conditions, and there are plenty of serious-but-rare conditions such as multiple sclerosis that might need to be ruled out.

Conclusion 

As runners, it’s easy to take our feet for granted. But they are an essential part in making it possible for us to run. The good news is that by experimenting, you should be able to figure out fairly quickly what is causing the numbness in your feet.

While it can be serious in rare cases, the vast majority of runners who experience numb feet will have easy fixes, even as simple as lacing your shoes differently. No matter what the solution is, though, you’ll definitely feel significantly better running with your feet back to 100%!

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner
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