Running is an invigorating, full-body experience that calls on 45 miles of nerve synapses to fire the muscles that move you forward. Sometimes, those nerves encounter a traffic jam in the feet and toes that makes your foot fall asleep.
It’s an eerie sensation, but there are plenty of reasons why your foot may fall asleep and just as many quick fixes.
So, we enlisted the help of Wendy Winn, PT, OCS at Custom Performance physical therapy in New York City to help you navigate the next time you experience foot numbness.
1. Check Your Shoes
Foot numbness happens when a nerve is entrapped, meaning there’s direct pressure on the nerve that keeps it from working properly. So, the first potential culprit is the shoe itself. For starters, make sure it’s big enough.
“I advise people to do either a half size or full size higher than what you’d typically wear,” Winn says. “I’m a [size] 7.5 in regular shoes, but a [size] 8 or 8.5 in running shoes.” Winn notes that certain brands tend to run narrower, so it’s important to try a shoe on rather than relying on the size itself.
Seasonal factors are another reason to make sure your entire foot has plenty of room. “[Numbness] can happen more in the winter because feet are cold, or in the summer because feet swell,” Winn says. And if you plan to wear thick wool socks in the wintertime, take that into account if you’re buying shoes when it’s warm out.
The shoe’s upper and laces can also cause nerve entrapment on the top of the foot, so make sure the laces aren’t adding undue pressure. If they are, try out an unconventional lacing method, such as using the highest eyelets to make loops that allow you to lace up tight around the ankle for a full heel lock, while keeping the rest of the laces looser. (Here’s a YouTube tutorial for a visual.)
2. Consider Your Stride
When counseling runners on foot numbness, Winn first watches them run. “If you’re spending too much time on the ground, that’s a lot of shock absorption,” she says. “Your shoes and feet aren’t prepared for that.”
Having a lengthy foot strike could be a symptom of over-striding. Imagine how hard it would be to leap as far as you can on every stride. You can understand how over-striding can put excessive stress on your entire kinetic chain.
You may want to see a physical therapist who specializes in running to get a professional opinion on your biomechanics. But, for now, try increasing your cadence by shortening your stride and running more steps at the same pace. (If you need help calculating your running pace, check out our handy tool.) Your foot strike should fall directly underneath your hips.
Our trainers will guide you through running workouts keeping your stride and foot strike in check with their audio queues. Check out Aaptiv’s running workouts today.
3. Identify Other Problem Areas
If the numbness persists, despite having roomy shoes and practicing a staccato stride, the issue might stem from another area entirely. “If you think about your nerves coming from your low back to your toes, there might be a spot along the way where the signal is getting cut off,” Winn says. “It could be from tightness, your lifestyle, or your running form.”
Because nerve issues can be tough to diagnose, you may want to see a professional if the numbness persists. That being said, there are some things you can try on your own.
“For example, if your hip is really tight from sitting at a desk all day, it could prevent some of the structure from getting through appropriately,” Winn says. She recommends patients try hip mobility and strengthening exercises, stretching and rolling out both the calves and hamstrings. Any tightness from the lower back down to the toes is worth addressing.
The bottom line: Foot numbness happens to plenty of people, and it may come and go with time. “In general, it’s benign; it’s not something we get super concerned about,” Winn concludes. However, to maximize your running experience, run through this list and consult a professional if the numbness persists.