By: Jeremy Neisser
Your feet can become numb while running for many reasons including improper footwear, overheating, bad running form, weak feet, bad circulation, swelling, and arthritis.
Thankfully, most of these causes are treatable or preventable.
Let's go into more detail about all of these specific issues to see how we can prevent numb feet while running in the future.
1. Shoes Not Fit Properly
One of the major causes of numb feet when running is having running shoes that don't fit properly. Shoes that are too tight can cause your feet to become numb due to the lack of blood circulation. It's important to ensure that your shoes have enough room for your toes and are not too constrictive.
When shopping for running shoes, it's also a good idea to get extra cushioning and arch support to help prevent any numbness or discomfort while running.
If you are uncertain about how to fit your shoes properly or tie them up without hurting your feet, then consider stepping into a specialty running shoe store to get some help from one of the trained professionals inside. They can either help get the correct shoe for you or just show you how to lace them up properly without constricting your circulation. The biggest takeaway, is don't wear poor fitting shoes. Choose shoes that fit snug and are comfortable. I recommend Hoka, Altra or Brooks.
Tight running shoes can cause numb feet, so it's best to get well-fitted shoes to prevent this from happening. This happens from over-tightening your laces. Tight shoe laces place extra stress on your feet and extra pressure on the support areas of the shoe. One option is to pick up a pair of shoe-locks. They keep you from overtightening your shoes.
2. Your Feet are Overheating
When running, the feet often become hot and sweaty due to the friction between the shoe and the ground. The sweat then causes the foot to become damp, which can lead to a decrease in blood circulation. Needless to say, this is often more of a problem in the summer months.
This decreased circulation may cause your feet to feel numb as a result of nerve compression. To avoid this, it is important to wear breathable socks that wick away moisture and shoes that allow air to circulate around your feet to keep them cool and dry while running.
Additionally, if you experience numbness in your feet while running, it’s important to take a break and stretch your feet out to help restore circulation.
3. Poor Running Form or Improper Running Gait
Poor running form can cause foot numbness in the feet due to increased pressure on nerves.
For example, overstriding, or landing heel first with the foot ahead of the body's center of gravity, results in prolonged contact with the ground and can lead to foot numbness.
Running incorrectly can lead to an increased risk of injury and decreased performance. To avoid this, runners should shorten their stride and focus on landing on the midsole with each footfall, directly under their body.
This technique encourages a light, quick running motion that is similar to stepping on hot coals. Doing this can improve running form, reduce the chances of injury, and maximize performance.
Runners often find themselves overstriding or a lengthy foot strike, which can lead to wasted energy and a higher risk of shin splints.
Fortunately, this habit can be corrected with the help of a physical therapist or running coach. Seeking professional guidance is advised to learn more specific techniques in form correction that will lead to better overall performance.
When running, your leg follows a certain cycle known as the running gait. This comprises of two main stages: stance and swing. Additionally, during the swing stage there's an extra subphase specific to running called flight or float. Poor running gait can lead to foot numbness as it puts extra strain on the nerves, joints, and muscles.
One way to improve your running gait is by recruiting a friend to watch you run. To identify your gait, ask your friend to watch your knees. If your knees are coming inward when running, it indicates that you're overpronating; if they're turning out slightly then this suggests underpronation. Not sure if a friend is up to the task? Many physical therapist offices offer gait analysis which provide you a tremendous understanding of what your legs and feet are doing during your run.
Overpronation, or flat feet, is usually caused by added weight and pressure that isn't alleviated. When left untreated, the nerves can be affected which may lead to feelings of numbness and tingling in the feet and toes.
An additional cause could stem from a damaged disc protruding into the spinal cord area causing further sensations of numbness and tingling throughout your lower limbs.
4. Foot Structure or Peroneal Nerve Dysfunction
Athletes who run often may experience numbness in the feet, which can be caused by an underlying condition of the foot's anatomy.
Those with flat or overly flexible feet are particularly likely to suffer from nerve compression due to the decreased amount of padding and support that their arches provide.
This can also contribute to compression on the peroneal nerve that runs down to the foot, which can cause a numb or tingling sensation.
To reduce the risk of experiencing foot numbness during running, athletes should make sure they have adequate arch support and cushioning.
For those experiencing foot pain or discomfort, insoles are a great way to help correct the issue.
While it is possible to purchase over-the-counter orthotics at pharmacies and chain stores, a podiatrist is likely the best person to consult in order to determine the best type of orthotic for your particular needs.
If an over-the-counter insert won’t suffice, they will be able to prescribe custom orthotics that can provide long-lasting relief.
5. Tight Feet Muscles or Tension
Tight feet muscles or tension can be a common cause of numbness in your feet when running. This is often caused by the feet muscles being overly tense and not allowing enough blood flow to the area.
Make sure your shoelaces aren't too tight or loose either, as this can overwork your feet muscles in ways they are not used to and may lead to tight muscles.
To help prevent this from happening, it is important to stretch and warm up your feet muscles before beginning a run. Additionally, running shoes that are too tight can also cause numbness in the feet, so it is important to make sure you have properly fitted shoes to wear during your run.
6. Swelling of Heel Or Toes
One common cause of numb feet during a run is swelling of the heel or toes. When the heel and toes swell, it can put pressure on the nerves in the foot and cause numbness. Swelling can be caused by wearing shoes that are too tight, a lack of arch support, or pronation of the foot when running. Often times your third and fourth toes will swell but your second and third toes can become numb as well.
It is important to wear properly fitted shoes with adequate arch support to reduce the risk of swelling and resulting foot numbness.
Additionally, if you are pronating your foot while running, it may be beneficial to consult a running specialist who can provide you with specific exercises to help reduce pronation.
7. Arthritis In Foot Or Leg
If you have arthritis in your foot or leg, you may experience numbness in your feet when running. This is because the inflammation associated with arthritis can cause the nerves in your feet to become compressed, resulting in a reduced sensation.
It is important to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing numbness in your feet when running, as this may be an indication of an underlying medical condition. Your doctor can help you determine the best course of action for managing your arthritis and minimizing the discomfort associated with it.
Make sure to speak with a doctor regarding any sort of onset arthritis that could have a lasting impact on your quality of life. Managing these issues early is the best way to preserve your health over time.
8 Tarsal Tunnel syndrome
Situated on the inner side of the ankle, the tarsal tunnel is a passageway created by several bones and an array of ligaments that spans across your foot. It is home to many blood vessels, nerves, and tendons which allow for mobility and pliability in your foot.
Tarsal tunnel Syndrome (TTS) is a condition resulting from the squeezing of the posterior tibial nerve while it passes through its passageway, called the "tarsal tunnel".
This compression can lead to discomfort, prickling sensations or numbness in one's foot. To help combat the effects of TTS, custom insoles can be used to provide support for your foot in order to reduce the amount of pressure on the posterior tibial nerve.
You can use these reasons to eliminate one cause after another until you've found the root cause of your feet numbing over time. One option is to pop by a running shoe specialist in your hometown. They can provide tremendous insight into what shoes would work best for you.
There are plenty of reasons why your foot may be going numb while running, but you may find that your cause for numb feet is different, including some sort of nerve damage. Make sure to check in with your doctor before jumping to any set conclusion for your foot numbness.
Hi, Jeremy Here,
I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journey. About Jeremy.
I have run over 250 races including the California International Marathon, Clarksburg Country Run, and various other 5K & 10K races throughout the United States. I am a former Athletics department employee at University of the Pacific and Shoe Consultant with Dicks Sporting Goods