What It Means When Your Foot Goes Numb When Running

Soft focus woman massaging her painful foot while exercising. Running sport injury concept.
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Numbness or a tingling sensation of your toes or the top of your foot is a common complaint among runners. When these symptoms are unrelated to running in cold weather the cause is often due to wearing running shoes that are too tight or tying your shoelaces too tight. However, these symptoms can be due to nerve conditions, especially if you have diabetes.

Numb or Tingling Feet Due to Your Shoes

Your feet swell when you run, so you should be wearing running shoes that are a half size to a full size bigger than your street shoe size. If you have a wide foot, you may need to get a running shoe that has an extra-wide toebox. You can ask a salesperson at a running specialty store for advice on the right shoes. Make sure that the salesperson also checks your running gait so you can get the correct shoes for your running style. Sometimes toe numbness can be a result of a biomechanical issue that can be corrected with the right shoes or inserts.

If you think that you're wearing the correct running shoes for your foot size and gait, you can also try stopping to stretch when you start feeling the numbness. Sometimes tightness in your legs may lead you to run with improper form, which may put pressure on a nerve and lead to the numbness. A quick stretch of any part that feels tight may help. When you stop to stretch, also try to move your foot around and massage it a little, just to get the blood flowing to the areas that feel numb. Running on your toes for 30 seconds or so can also help.

How you lace your shoes can also influence whether your shoes are too tight across the top of your foot. Often, you will pull your laces tight trying to get a good fit at the ankle. To keep the laces wide enough over the top of your foot, you can use two sets of laces or use the technique where you lace from eyelet to eyelet on the same side once at the middle eyelets rather than crisscrossing. This keeps the laces looser over the top of the foot when you tighten them at the ankle.

Stretching or Massage Can Help

If you continue to have a problem with foot numbness and you're prone to muscle tightness, you'll need to work on relieving the tightness. Go for a professional sports massage or try using a foam roller or other massage tool to roll areas where runners frequently get tight, such as your quads, calves, hamstrings, and IT band. Try doing some post-run stretches and yoga to relieve your tightness and improve your flexibility. Also, make sure that you do some warm-up exercises before you start running so your muscles are warmed up before you start running hard or long.

When to See Your Doctor

If you don't see any improvement with the above advice, it's important that you see your primary doctor or a podiatrist. You may have a nerve issue called a neuroma. Though it may sound scary, a doctor-recommended under-the-foot pad can help treat the condition by taking pressure off the nerve.

The numbness could be the result of peripheral neuropathy, which is nerve damage that can develop when you have diabetes or other illnesses. For some people, foot numbness or tingling is the first sign that they have diabetes. If your symptoms persist, don't wait to get checked out with your healthcare professional. It can be your wake-up call to ensure you are getting appropriate care to manage these conditions.

View Article Sources
  • American Diabetes Association. Peripheral neuropathy. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/neuropathy/peripheral-neuropathy.html.
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Nerve Damage (Diabetic Neuropathies) https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/preventing-diabetes-problems/nerve-damage-diabetic-neuropathies.