If you suffer from numb feet when running, it could be more than just an uncomfortable feeling—it might be a sign of a bigger problem.
The good news is that it’s quite treatable. But to do so, you need to identify the cause.
Here’s all you need to know about numb feet and how to manage them while running.
What Is Foot Numbness From Running?
Numb feet don’t feel the same for everyone. In most cases, runners describe it as either a complete loss of sensation throughout the entire foot, a loss of sensation in a particular part of the foot, or an uncomfortable feeling that’s a combination of numbness and light tingling, like pins and needles.
Usually, this is caused by poor circulation in that particular area of the foot. However, other reasons can exist, like compressed nerves or medical conditions.
Is Foot Numbness Common in Runners?
Running places a lot of strain on your feet, so it’s not surprising that foot numbness is quite common in runners. Not all runners experience it, but don’t be surprised if you do… It can affect a seasoned runner as easily as beginners!
Many factors come into play during a run, influencing how the feet feel things. If you can narrow down what’s contributing to your foot numbness, it’s easy to fix and prevent it from happening again.
Most runners just accept that it happens, but while it’s fairly common, it doesn’t have to be something you’re stuck with forever!
Different Types of Foot Numbness When Running
Not all numbness is the same. It’s a good idea to identify the type of foot numbness you’re experiencing so you can narrow down some potential reasons for it. Thankfully, it’s quite easy to figure it out!
- Generalized Numbness: Affects the whole foot or most of it. It could include a loss of sensation and tingling or just a numb, “disconnected” feeling.
- Top of Foot Numbness: Often caused by compression of the nerves running along the top of the foot. It often occurs by itself, with no other numbness in other areas of the foot.
- Toe Numbness: Toe numbness is common in runners, but it can be tricky to pick up when running. It can affect all the toes, or just a few. It can also happen on one side or both sides.
- Ball of Foot Numbness: May be a sign of metatarsalgia, and affects the fatty pad just behind the toes. May be accompanied by an unusual pressure that feels like you’re standing on a pebble.
- Arch Numbness: Often caused by compression of nerves due to uneven distribution of body weight.
- Heel Numbness: This could occur underneath the heel, or behind the heel—the Achilles, which is known for having a poor blood supply.
- Ankle Numbness: Numbness around or underneath the inner or outer ankle bones could result from inflamed tendons pressing on nerves or cutting off the circulation in the area.
Why Do You Get Numb Feet When Running?
Which of these reasons sound most likely to be the reason behind your foot numbness? Narrow it down, and you’ll be a step closer to fixing this painful condition.
1. Poorly-Fitting Shoes
Many runners wear the wrong size shoes! If your shoes are too tight—even slightly—they can place pressure on parts of the foot and compress nerves, leading to numbness.
It’s a good idea to get your feet professionally measured. That way, you can shop by actual measurement, not code numbers or letters indicating a size range.
This should be your first consideration when figuring out your numb feet. Get them measured, and figure out if your current shoes are too small for you.
Remember that your feet swell when you run and swell even more in warmer weather. Typically, you want about a thumbnail width between your biggest toe and the front of the shoe to accommodate this.
Your feet also swell throughout the day. It’s wise to get your feet measured later in the day, as well as trying shoes on later in the day to get the most accurate fit.
2. Tying Your Laces Too Tightly
In some cases, it’s not the size of your shoes that’s the problem, but the way you lace them. You could be lacing them too tightly, which will put pressure on the nerves and can lead to numbness or obstruct blood flow, especially on the top of the foot.
It’s a common problem for those who have high arches. You can try a few different lacing patterns, or choose a shoe with more volume inside it to accommodate your foot.
3. Not Enough Cushioning or Support
If your shoe doesn’t have enough cushioning, it won’t absorb shock every time you land. This means your joints, tissues, and nerves will take on a lot more force, leading to numbness or pain.
The same is true for a lack of support. This could lead to your foot placing pressure somewhere it shouldn’t as the arch collapses or turns outwards, possibly causing numbness.
4. Poor Running Form
Similarly, poor form can cause your body weight to be unevenly distributed across the foot, possibly compressing nerves and causing a numb feeling. Improving your running form can make a huge difference in keeping your feet feeling good.
5. The Anatomy of Your Feet
In some cases, the foot anatomy you’re born with can increase your chance of developing numb feet. People with flat feet are more likely to struggle with compressed nerves as their collapsed arches place pressure on them.
Those with high arches are more likely to experience numbness on the top of the foot. In both cases, shoe inserts can help, but you may need custom orthotics for the best effect.
6. Pre-Existing Foot Conditions
If you already have conditions like Morton’s neuroma, metatarsalgia, hammer toes, or bunions, you’re more likely to experience numbness in the feet. This is because the nerves and tissues are already compromised, so it doesn’t take much more to numb your feet.
7. Compressed Nerves and Blood Vessels
Poor circulation in your feet can cause a numb feeling. This could be due to the way you’ve been sitting, the cold, too tight shoes, or a number of other things, but it’s generally easy to fix.
Nerve compression is also common. If you sit on a foot for a while, the nerve could become compressed. Two common compression problems are tarsal tunnel syndrome, in which the tibial nerve in the ankle is compressed, and sciatic nerve problems, which can cause foot pain and numbness.
8. Underlying Medical Conditions
Certain medical conditions can cause foot numbness. Diabetes is the most common, but if you suspect your numbness is medical, it’s best to get a medical professional to assess it.
Peripheral neuropathy is when the spinal nerves —the nerves coming off the spinal cord—are damaged and can’t relay messages from the feet to the brain, and vice versa. A number of different things can cause it, and it can present with pain in some cases as well as numbness.
Overtraining can cause numb limbs as well. If you overdo it, especially as a beginner, the inflammation in the feet can cause swelling, redness, and numbness. Muscle tightness after training can also hamper blood flow, leading to numb sensations.
Build up slowly and get your feet used to your level of activity. Also, stretch gently every day to keep the blood flowing.
Effects of Numb Feet on Running Performance
Numb feet aren’t just uncomfortable and annoying. They can also harm your running, so it’s in your best interest to take steps to prevent it from happening. Here’s what numb feet can do to your performance.
Altered Running Form
If you can’t feel the ground beneath your feet, it becomes harder to keep your running form. Your judgment becomes skewed, and elements like your stride length, foot positioning, pronation, and impact are affected.
Not only can this make your running less effective, but it also increases your chance of becoming injured if you misstep.
Reduced Power and Strength
You can’t produce as much power from your feet and legs if they’re numb! When your ground feeling is impaired, there’s no way to know if you’re pushing off as powerfully as possible.
In most cases, numb feet lead to a “lag” in foot strikes, making you slower and less powerful over time.
Balance and Coordination
When you can’t feel the ground beneath you or feel your feet, it becomes hard to keep your balance effectively.
This is more pronounced when you’re moving at a speed, which can make it difficult to maintain your efficiency as you run because your body loses energy just staying balanced.
Increased Risk of Injury
Numb feet can lead to a higher impact on the feet, increase the risk of joint injuries, and make you more susceptible to twisting an ankle as your balance is impaired.
But numbness can also present another problem—you may not realize when you’re injured and accidentally push yourself too far. If you can’t feel your feet, you’re more likely to develop blisters and calluses.
However, if you develop something more serious, you may not realize you’ve injured yourself and continue to run through it, worsening the injury.
How to Prevent Foot Numbness While Running
Depending on the cause of your foot numbness, implementing some of these could help alleviate or prevent it from happening completely.
Get Fitted for Shoes
You can get a professional shoe fitting at almost any shoe store near you. When you know the proper measurements of your feet, you can buy shoes that fit properly based on their actual measured size rather than just a number or code.
Rotate Your Running Shoes
Rotating your running shoes gives each pair the chance to “rest” in between runs. This allows the midsole foam to bounce back and allows the shoes to dry out properly before being used again.
It also means that they will take longer to wear down. Worn-out shoes can place pressure on certain parts of your feet, causing numbness or even sensations like tingling or pain.
Try Different Lacing Techniques
Experimenting with different lacing techniques can make a big difference for numb feet. It’s worth trying this before you buy new shoes, because it’s a small action that can make a big difference to your overall comfort.
Improve Your Running Form
Poor running form can cause your weight to be unevenly distributed on your feet, which may lead to pain or numbness as nerves are compressed. With a bit of work on your running form, you may be able to alleviate this.
Make an effort to keep your posture upright, engage your core while you run, and avoid overstriding. Your front foot should be landing underneath your pelvis, not out in front of you. You may want to video yourself and analyze your running form using an app like Bform.
Stretch Your Feet and Legs
Tight muscles and poor circulation can lead to numbness. Regularly stretching your legs can help to keep the blood flowing and prevent numbness from setting in.
If you spend a lot of time sitting, it’s also a good idea to take regular walks to stretch your legs and get the blood flowing again.
Visit a Healthcare Professional
If you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to help your numb feet, seeing a healthcare professional is a good idea. They may be able to do more tests to figure out what’s behind it, and if it is something medical, they can advise you on the best way forward.