Your mileage may vary, of course, but for our money there are few pleasures greater than going for a bike ride.
Whether you use your bicycle to commute, race, or just casually ride around the neighborhood and get some fresh air with friends and family, biking can be great fun and a great form of exercise. In fact, we often recommend cycling as an ideal “low impact” exercise for patients who are recovering from chronic foot pain.
However, that doesn’t mean cycling comes without any potential pitfalls for feet. One of the major ones is metatarsalgia, also known as ball of foot pain—and in the cycling community, sometimes called “hot foot.”
What Is Hot Foot?
Hot foot is an injury that develops in the balls of your feet while cycling. It can develop suddenly, usually in the middle of a long ride, and produce significant, even debilitating pain.
Here’s what’s going on:
The balls of your feet are the point of contact between you and the pedals, which in turn drive the bicycle. As you might expect, this focuses a lot of pressure and stress on the muscles, joints, and other tissues located there.
Over the course of a long ride, your feet will probably start to swell, and the metatarsal heads can start to squeeze together. This in turn compresses and irritates the nerves that supply the balls of the feet and the toes, often resulting in a painful burning sensation that starts just behind the toes and “radiates” into them—hence, “hot foot.”
Trust us: it isn’t fun.
What Can I Do About Hot Foot?
Whether you’ve just experienced hot foot for the first time or find it a frequent annoyance on long rides, chances are you want to keep it from happening ever again.
Here are a few tips that can help you reduce your risk of metatarsalgia while cycling and enjoy longer, more comfortable rides:
Invest in some wider shoes with plenty of wiggle room for toes and adjustable laces or straps so you can loosen the fit as needed. Pro tip: go shoe shopping toward the end of the day, or even right after you’ve finished a ride. That way, you can fit your shoes to your feet when they’re already a little swollen.
Wear thinner socks. It may not seem like a big deal, but a thinner sock means your feet have more space inside your shoe to expand.
If you ride with adjustable cleats, try moving them back a bit so the pressure isn’t quite as concentrated directly on the ball of the foot. If your bike has platform pedals and you ride with normal shoes, try adjusting the position of your foot on the pedal.
Take more breaks. Hot foot is more likely to develop the longer you ride. If you’re planning to be on your bike for a few hours, don’t be afraid to break up the ride with a few stops to rest your feet for a few minutes—especially if you notice symptoms starting to flare up.
If necessary, you may need to take shorter rides or choose flatter routes without as many hills to conquer.
Consider fitting your bike with wider pedals, which distribute pressure over a larger area.
Consider checking in with your local bike shop or a certified bike fitter for a bike adjustment. They may be able to adjust your riding position to be more efficient and less likely to result in hot foot.
What Can a Podiatrist Do About My Hot Foot?
While we certainly hope you’re able to fix your ball of foot pain problem with simple tips like the ones above, don’t be afraid to give us a call. We are experts when it comes to painful conditions of the feet and ankles, which very much includes cycling-related injuries like hot foot.
Sometimes hot foot can be linked to structural issues with the feet themselves—for example, flat feet. In such cases, we can fit you with a set of orthotics that can support your arch and keep excess pain and pressure away from the balls of the feet and the metatarsal heads while you ride.
If you need more information or require treatment for foot pain that is affecting your enjoyment on a bike, contact the Foot Specialists of Long Island today. Call our office in Massapequa, NY at (516) 804-9038 or request an appointment online. Happy two-wheeling!
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