As runners, our feet take quite a beating. After all, we take about 1,400 footfalls per mile when running at an 8-minute mile pace. String together five or six miles and each foot has absorbed your landing and propelled you forward nearly 5,000 times. It’s no wonder many runners deal with foot pain at one point or another. But what about numb feet when running?
Although it may seem like a welcomed sensation to a runner with sore, achy feet, numb feet, or tingling in the feet or toes when running can be an equally disturbing and uncomfortable sensation.
Fortunately, numbness in your toes or feet when running can often be remedied with a few simple changes to your footwear, but remedying the issue is contingent upon identifying the root cause of the numbness.
If you’re not sure where to start, keep reading to learn about what may cause numbness in your toes and feet when running and what to do about it.
In this guide, we’re going to look at:
- What Is Foot Numbness From Running?
- 8 Possible Causes of Why our Feet Go Numb When Running
- What To Do About Numb Feet From Running
Let’s dive in!
What Is Foot Numbness from Running?
First, it’s important to clarify what we are talking about.
Foot numbness when running may present itself in several different ways. Some runners will feel a loss of sensation over the top of the foot, sole of the foot, or side of the foot, more simply stated they feel their feet fall asleep when running. Other runners may complain of numbness in one or more toes.
The sensation may also be experienced as a combination of numbness and a tingling sensation like the classic “pins and needles” feeling people describe after sitting cross-legged for an extended period of time. This tingling or prickling feeling is called paresthesia.
Let’s take a look at what causes this uncomfortable sensation.
8 Causes of Why our Feet Go Numb When Running
There are several potential causes of numbness in your toes or feet when running, but the general trend is that one or more nerves in the foot are being compressed or compromised in some way.
Let’s take a look at 8 possible causes as to why your feet go numb when running.
#1: Tight Running Shoes
Poorly-fitting running shoes are one of the most common causes of foot numbness when running. If your running shoes are too tight, the shoe squeezes the metatarsal region and compresses the nerves and blood vessels that supply the feet and toes.
While a running shoe that is too short in length (for example, a size 9 for a runner who needs a 9.5) can lead to numbness or tingling in the feet, the width of the shoe is the main offender.
Many runners opt for the standard-width running shoe, but if your foot is wide, the toe box (the part of the running shoe for your forefoot) may be too tight. Your foot should be able to have a little room to splay when you run. Look out for this when choosing shoes as many conventional running shoes are overly confining and snug in the toe box.
It’s important to be fitted for running shoes by a specialist who can properly measure your foot and analyze its shape while assisting you with your purchase.
If poorly-fitting running shoes are the culprit for your foot numbness, going up a half size and trying wide-width running shoes can help prevent numb feet when running.
#2: Tight Shoe Laces
Even if you have running shoes that fit the size and shape of your feet, you may still suffer from numb feet when running if your laces are pulled too tightly. Many runners yank their shoelaces really tight, particularly around the base of the foot, which can compress the nerves resulting in numb toes and feet.
Although you want your feet to feel secure in your shoes, resist the urge to over-tighten your shoes.
In addition to footwear issues, your running form can potentially lead to numbness and tingling in your feet when running. Many runners struggle with overstriding, which puts your heel in contact with the ground upon landing rather than the midfoot.
In addition to increasing the risk of injuries like shin splints, overstriding increases your ground contact time and stress on the foot, and can compress vasculature supplying the plantar aspect of your foot (sole).
Work on shortening your stride, keeping your center of gravity under your body, and increasing your turnover to reduce the risk of numbness in the sole of your foot when running.
#4: Flat Feet
If you suffer from flat feet, a greater portion of the sole of your foot is in contact with the ground with every footfall. This can lead to excessive compression on blood vessels and nerves in the arch and sole of the foot, which may cause numbness.
Orthotics can be helpful to support proper foot alignment and correct the stresses placed on the foot. Foot strengthening exercises may also be beneficial to avoid numb feet when running.
#5: Morton’s Neuroma
Morton’s neuroma is a painful condition characterized by entrapment, thickening, and compression of a nerve in your forefoot between the toes due to scar tissue. It generally develops between the third and fourth toes near the ball of your foot, but it can also occur between the second and third toes or other adjacent toes.
Morton’s neuroma is usually caused by habitually wearing shoes that are too tight, such as narrow high heels or snug flats, and is a condition that is especially prevalent in women who wear poor-fitting shoes for long periods of time.
It causes symptoms such as pain, pressure, numbness, and a prickling sensation in the toes or ball of your foot.
#6: Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Much like carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist, tarsal tunnel syndrome in the ankle can cause numbness, tingling, and discomfort along all or half of the bottom of the foot.
On the medial (inside) of your ankle, there is a region called the tarsal tunnel, which houses the tibial nerve, an artery, and a vein. Compression on the tarsal tunnel can cause foot numbness when running.
Again, ensure your laces aren’t too tight at the ankle, but you may need to see a foot and ankle specialist to investigate the cause of the compression.
#7: Sciatic Nerve Issues
Believe it or not, numb feet when running can actually stem from nerve compression or irritation in the back. The sciatic nerve runs down the back of the entire leg and eventually branches into nerves that supply the foot. Compression or inflammation of the nerve where it originates in the back can cause numbness in your feet or toes when running.
Runners may deal with sciatica from poor posture, excessively tight piriformis muscles, or other back injuries. Consider seeing a physical therapist who can prescribe rehabilitative exercises and stretches to alleviate the condition.
#8: Peripheral Neuropathy
If you’re mostly suffering from numb toes when running and have ruled out other causes, there’s a chance you’re dealing with peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is caused by damage to the nerves and blood vessels in your fingers or toes, which can lead to symptoms such as numbness and loss of feeling, prickling, and paresthesia, and the feeling of your foot “falling asleep.”
There are several potential root causes of peripheral neuropathy but diabetes and frostbite are the most common culprits. As peripheral neuropathy can be indicative of severe, underlying diabetes, it is imperative that you consult your healthcare provider if you are concerned about this issue.
What to Do About Numb Feet When Running
Once you’ve identified the most likely cause as to why your feet fall asleep when running, the solution should be fairly simple.
Here are actionable fixes for numb feet when running:
- If your shoes are too tight, size up and/or get a wider shoe. Consider getting fit by a running shoe specialist.
- If you are lacing your shoes too tightly, loosen the laces along the top of the shoe or consider an alternative lacing pattern.
- If you are overstriding, work to shorten your stride. You may want to consult a running coach for a few sessions to address your running form.
- If you have flat feet, you may want to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist for custom orthotics. Otherwise, look into over-the-counter insoles for runners.
- If you have Morton’s neuroma, consult a podiatrist or foot specialist about treatment options. They may fit you with a metatarsal pad to alleviate pain or may recommend surgical excision.
- If you have tarsal tunnel syndrome, verify your shoes and laces aren’t putting excessive pressure on the inside of your ankle and consult a foot and ankle specialist.
- If you have sciatica or back pain, begin a rehabilitation program and investigate maladaptive posture or biomechanical issues.
- If you have peripheral neuropathy, consult your physician for professional advice.
In most cases, treating foot numbness from running is simple and the problem is resolved soon after the cause is addressed with minimal residual consequences.
If you get numb feet when running, try out these solutions and see which one works for you! You can also check out our Running Shoe Fitting Guide to ensure your next pair fit perfectly!