As runners, we deal with a lot of different issues from runner’s knees to Achilles tendonitis. But what about numb feet when running?
It’s one thing to feel like your foot is falling asleep when you’ve stood up from sitting, and a totally different and uncomfortable sensation when it happens while you’re running!
In most cases, the reason why it happens isn’t serious and can be dealt with easily. It’s a surprisingly common issue in newer runners due to a few of the things we’ll talk about like poor shoe fit!
But it’s important to consider all factors and know when it’s time to head to the doctor.
In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about numb feet when running, along with 10 causes and what you can do about them. We’ll also discuss what your next step should be if the numbness isn’t going away.
Ready? Let’s get started!
What is Foot Numbness from Running?
First of all, let’s clarify exactly what we mean by numb feet when running.
Foot numbness can occur in different ways; some runners feel a loss of sensation all over the top of their foot, others on the sole of the foot or the side of the foot.
But you might also experience foot numbness all over your foot which feels like your foot has fallen asleep. Numbness in one or more toes is another way that this condition might present itself.
Another way you might experience this is with a combination of numbness and a tingling sensation that’s similar to the ‘pins and needles’ feeling many people experience when sitting cross-legged for a long period of time. This feeling is called paresthesia.
Regardless of how foot numbness presents itself, let’s look at the top 11 causes for why your feet go numb when running. (Not including running without shoes!)
10 Causes of Why Your Feet Go Numb When Running
There are many potential causes for numb feet when running, but an underlying theme that’s common in most of these is that one or more nerves in the foot are being compressed or compromised in some manner.
Let’s look at the 10 causes as to why your feet go numb when running.
We’re going to start with things you can quickly adjust and move on to the more medical treatment needed options. Because Googling your symptoms can sometimes provide an easy solution!
1. Poor Fitting Running Shoes
One of the top causes of foot numbness in runners is wearing shoes that are too tight. This puts pressure on the nerves in the foot.
Tight shoes can squeeze the metatarsal region and compress the nerves and blood vessels that supply the toes and feet. This results in the sensations we discussed earlier.
You might be thinking that it all comes down to wearing a shoe that’s too short in length, but most commonly the issue is the width of the shoe, not the length!
Based on the shape of your feet, you might be needed a shoe that has an extra-large toe box (the area at the front of the shoe for your forefoot). That’s one reason many people love Altra Running Shoes. They are not barefoot shoes, just Zero Drop.
To figure out if your shoe is the main offender behind these numbing sensations:
- put on your shoes and see if you have a little room to move your toes around
- also check that you could get a thumb width between toes and end of the shoe
- your running shoes will often be 1/2 to a full size bigger than your regular shoes
A study published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation explains that our feet tend to swell when we run, especially when it’s hot and humid outside. And this is why we recommend buying a pair of shoes that’s one-half or a full size larger than your regular shoe size.
2. Tight Shoe Laces
Sometimes it’s not the shoes that are causing these sensations, but the laces! And when it comes to the laces, it’s not the laces themselves but the how you lace and tie them.
We commonly tend to pull our laces extra tight in order to get a good fit that prevents our heel from slipping. But this can lead to nerve compression which results in numb feet and toes.
This compression of the nerves can most commonly occur on the top of the foot due to tight shoelaces.
To counteract this issue, you can try different lacing techniques to see which one works for you or resist the urge to secure them at the ankles so tightly.
- Try skipping some loop holes along the top of the foot
- Loosen the laces along the top and do a heel lock lace at the ankle
Here is an example of lacing to relieve pressure on the toes, but you can do the same along the top of the foot.
3. Incorrect Running Form
Poor running form can lead to a host of problems, including foot numbness.
The main issue is overstriding.
When we over stride the feet remain inn contact with the ground for too long, compressing vasculature (blood vessels) that supply the plantar aspect or sole of your foot.
Working on your stride is a process that won’t be resolved over night, but here are a few quick tips:
- Think about shortening your stride and focus on landing on the mid-sole during each footfall.
- You want to land with your foot under the body.
- Focusing on an increased running cadence can help with this.
- Checkout this 5 Week Video Guided Running Form Course for more help.
This should reduce the risk of feeling numbness in the soles of your feet.
4. Foot Structure
Considering the anatomy of your feet is important, especially if you’re feeling numbness or pins and needles sensation in your feet when running.
Those most effected are either flat-footed or have feet with high arches.
Running with flat feet, in particular, can lead to excessive compression on your blood vessels and nerves where the arch meets the ground, and this may cause numbness.
Sometimes this biomechanical issue can be corrected with at home exercises and/or the right shoe. Otherwise, shoe inserts known as orthotics may help provide relief in such a situation.
You can also get a podiatrist to examine your feet to help you pick the best orthotic available over the counter.
5. Too Much Too Soon
Suddenly increasing the intensity or distance of your runs can lead to muscle trauma. This can lead to swelling in the feet which then presses on the nerves.
It’s best to slowly increase your speed, distance, or time in 10% increments so you don’t risk the chance of injuries. This is important whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, always listen to your body.
Too much, too soon is at the root of many running injuries.
So follow a good training plan and think long term about your training.
6. Muscle Tightness
Muscle tightness is known to be the cause of many running injuries, and it can also result in numbness in the feet when running.
This occurs because tight muscles lead to anatomical conditionals that put pressure on the nerves in the feet. When your muscles aren’t able to move easily through the full range of motion, somewhere else in the body starts to compensate.
Sometimes that’s our quads taking on extra work for too tight hips. Other times, it’s your foot doing more work than the should because other muscles aren’t working properly.
- Never skip the dynamic warm up – this helps to loosen up everything
- Incorporate more post-run stretches later in the day to undo the effects of sitting
- Checkout this great foot pre-hab set of exercises from Physical Therapist Stuart Wilson
7. Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
There is a region in our ankles called the tarsal tunnel, that’s on the medial (inside) of our ankles. It contains the tibial nerve, artery, and a vein. Which means you might be feeling both foot and ankle pain.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome can occur from compression on this posterior tibial nerve and is similar to how carpal tunnel syndrome occurs in the wrists.
- For runners, it’s very often related to the above flat feet or fallen arches.
- Also caused by running on a cambered road repeatedly.
- Weak ankles, hips, or core muscles are also culprits
- Overtraining and poorly fit running shoes also come in to play!
8. Sciatic Nerve Issues
Foot numbness, especially around the heel or the sole of the foot, can also be caused by compression of the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that runs from the spine down the back of the leg. The pain from sciatica might originate in the back but may end up causing numbness in the feet or toes.
Poor posture, tight piriformis muscles, or other back injuries might be the cause of sciatica.
If you suspect this might be the reason why you feel numbness in your toes or foot, it might be a good idea to get it checked by a doctor or physical therapist who may then prescribe stretches and rehabilitative exercises to you.
9. Morton’s Neuroma
Another cause of numb feet when running may be Morton’s Neuroma which is a painful condition that affects the ball of your foot, most commonly between the third and fourth toes.
It’s painful because a nerve in the area between the toes thickens or becomes enlarged due to scar tissue. This condition is more prevalent in women who wear ill-fitting running shoes for long periods of time.
This condition may sound scary, but it can be easily treated. Head to the doctor or podiatrist who may then prescribe metatarsal pads to wear inside your shoes. This will help lift and separate metatarsal heads and take the pressure off of the nerve.
10. Peripheral Neuropathy
Of all the causes mentioned here, this is the only one that’s potentially serious.
If you’re suffering from numb feet or toes when running, and don’t feel any of the other causes fit, then you may be dealing with peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy occurs as a result of damage to the nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord (peripheral nerves). This often causes weakness, numbness, and pain, usually in the feet and hands.
It can manifest as numbness or loss of sensation, paresthesia, or the feeling of your foot ‘falling asleep’.
It’s often a symptom of a medical condition or problem. One of the most common causes of diabetes and is important that you consult with your doctor about this issue
What To Do About Numb Feet When Running
Go through this comprehensive list of possible causes for foot numbness when running and once you identify the cause, you can easily figure out the solution.
Here are some possible solutions for numb feet when running based on the causes:
- Shoes are too tight, buy a pair that’s one-half or a full size up, or get a shoe with a wider toe box. You can also consider heading to a running shoe specialist to get properly fitted.
- Lacing your shoes too tightly, loosen up your laces along the top of the shoe and try different lacing techniques to see which one works best for you.
- Problem with your running form and you are overstriding, you may want to checkout our in-depth guided running form course or book a session with a local running coach to correct your form as soon as possible.
- Have flat or high-arched feet, you can look into getting over-the-counter insoles to support your arches. Alternatively, you may want to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist to help you with custom orthotics.
- Overtraining, consider lightening your schedule and increasing your speed, distance, or time in 10% increments so you can sustainably improve overall.
- Muscles are tight, consider warm-up or flexibility exercises to help loosen your muscles to avoid injury.
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome, time to get to work on adding in more ankle strengthening exercises and ensure that you’ve checked the boxes for the above issues too.
- Sciatic nerve issues, consult with a doctor or physical therapist to start a rehabilitation program or start at-home stretches.
- Morton’s neuroma, head to the doctor or podiatrist who may then prescribe metatarsal pads to wear inside your shoes
- Peripheral neuropathy, consult your doctor or physician for professional advice.
What If Numbness in Feet When Running Still Doesn’t Resolve
If none of the options listed above worked for you at home and the numbness still persists, head to your doctor right away to get checked.
Also, talk to your doctor if you keep experiencing pain and numbness hours or days after running.
Looking for more runner’s injury treatment tips?
- How to know if your running shoe fits properly?
- Treating runner’s toe (black toenail from running)
- Primed to Run Pain Free (a whole course done in conjunction with a PT!)
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