Foot pain while cycling (as well as foot pain after cycling) is a common experience for riders of all stripes. Almost all road cyclists, mountain bikers, and even bicycle commuters experience at least some degree of foot pain at some point during their riding careers. The pain may be so severe that it prevents participation in cherished bicycling activities and events, or, in some cases, forces a premature retirement from the sport—a sad, yet all-too-common outcome that's largely avoidable with the proper knowledge and equipment.
In addition to foot pain, a lot of pedalers also experience toe deformities, painful or otherwise, such as bunions, tailor's bunions, and crooked toes, as well as knee pain, hip pain, and back pain. Knee, hip, and back pain can be—perhaps surprisingly—related to the feet. The feet are the foundation of the entire body, and so if something is not right in the feet, there is a high likelihood that it may cause problems further up the kinetic chain that inhibit proper pedaling motion and turn the joyful experience of riding a bike into a sufferfest of epic proportions.
Cycling is a health and fitness pursuit that can be a lifelong leisure activity for individuals of all abilities. Those interested in getting the most out of their riding experience and maximizing their longevity in the sport must take care of their feet. The conventional cycling shoe and pedal setup are the main causes of cycling-related foot ills, and so in this article, we wanted to discuss some alternatives to the traditional equipment selections made by bicycle enthusiasts. In our experience, we've found the following five products to be helpful in addressing or preventing foot pain when pedaling:
- Catalyst Pedals
- Correct Toes Toe Spacers
- Foot-Healthy Athletic Footwear
- Injinji Toe Socks
- Pedag Metatarsal Pads or Strutz Foot Pads
Let's take a closer look at these five essential products for cyclists hoping to build and preserve strong, sturdy, injury-free feet.
1. Catalyst Pedals
The Catalyst Pedal by Pedaling Innovations is a total game-changer for all types of cyclists. This extra-long platform pedal has a number of distinct advantages over conventional clipless cycling pedals and even other flat pedals. For example, it allows you to put both ends of your main foot arch (i.e., your forefoot and heel) on the pedal, which helps enable natural arch support and allows you to get the very most out of every pedal stroke.
It's also the most comfortable pedal on the market, as it spreads the contact force across your entire foot, instead of routing all the pressure of the downstroke through one small focal point on the ball of your foot, which is the case with conventional pedals. This unique platform pedal can also be used in combination with comfortable and foot-healthy athletic shoes to address or prevent foot pain (more about this in section 3 below).
For those experiencing foot pain when road cycling, mountain biking, or bicycle commuting, the Catalyst Pedal is a true revelation. Check out our in-depth review of Catalyst Pedals or listen to our interview with Catalyst Pedals creator James Wilson to learn more about this great option for pedalers of all ages and abilities.
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2. Correct Toes Toe Spacers
Almost all cycling shoes available to riders today do not allow the toes to spread out. In fact, they do quite the opposite, which is a significant problem from a foot health perspective. The importance of healthy, natural toe splay cannot be overstated when it comes to pedaling a bike. Getting the toes spread back out to the position that nature intended (i.e., in line with their corresponding metatarsal bones) is crucial in enabling a strong, powerful foot and pedal stroke and in preventing the injuries or painful problems that commonly befall cyclists.
Correct Toes toe spacers slot in-between the toes to space them anatomically, which helps alleviate or prevent problems such as bunions, hammertoes, other types of crooked toes, plantar fasciosis, etc. Correct Toes toe spacers also help engage the muscles and tendons that act on the foot, which has the beneficial effect of strengthening and rehabilitating the foot with every pedal stroke.
Correct Toes can be worn inside appropriately wide toe box footwear during athletic activity, including while cycling. In fact, this toe spacing device has its greatest corrective effect when worn in a weight-bearing situation, such as standing, walking, running, or pedaling out of the saddle. It's important that Correct Toes toe spacers are used only in combination with sufficiently wide toe box footwear. These spacers should not be used inside conventional cycling shoes without first performing significant modifications to the shoe. Better yet (and simplest of all), choose a comfortable, foot-healthy athletic shoe that accommodates Correct Toes.
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3. Foot-Healthy Athletic Footwear
Footwear is a key consideration for cyclists. Most cycling shoes, especially cleated options that work in combination with clipless pedals, bind the foot and hold it in a very rigid (and deformed) configuration for long periods. Conventional cycling shoes are a leading cause of foot pain and problems in cyclists, due to their fiercely tapering toe boxes, toe spring, heel elevation, and rigid, inflexible soles.
Some believe that cycling shoes necessarily must be rigid in the sole for force transfer and power generation during the pedal stroke, but this argument becomes irrelevant when using a product such as Catalyst Pedals. The pedal itself, with its elongated shape, provides the rigid support platform for your foot to push against. This frees you up to wear men's or women's foot-healthy athletic shoes that allow your foot to function like a healthy bare foot inside your shoe.
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4. Injinji Toe Socks
Toe socks, such as Injinji toe socks, possess individual toe sleeves that allow your toes the freedom to move independently. Conventional cycling socks pinch the toes together and contribute to numerous foot and toe problems, including passive toe deformities. Toe socks are an excellent choice for most athletes, as they help boost the airflow between your toes, which helps create a dry and cool environment inside your sock.
One particular type of toe sock that has been embraced by athletes, including cyclists, is the Injinji compression toe sock, which offers graduated lower leg compression to help enhance your circulation and boost your athletic recovery. These toe socks offer compression where you need it (in the calf and lower leg) and freedom in the feet and toes, where the sock feels and functions like a regular toe sock.
Injinji toe socks work great in combination with Correct Toes, and they come in a variety of heights, ranging from below-the-ankle to knee-length.
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5. Pedag Metatarsal Pads or Strutz Foot Pads
Metatarsal pads are simple and unobtrusive foot pads that help straighten and flatten the toes so that they can bear their fair share of your body weight. Metatarsal pads—whether they be of the stick-and-place variety, such as Pedag metatarsal pads, or of the “mobile” variety, such as Strutz foot pads—help spread your transverse foot arch, promote proper forefoot fat pad positioning (to protect the heads of your metatarsal bones), and restore a healthy balance between the tendons that flex and extend your toes. They also address and prevent ball of foot pain caused by problems such as hot spots, neuromas, sesamoiditis, and capsulitis—all common foot complaints among cyclists.
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Better Together: The Synergistic Effects of Natural Footgear
Each of the products mentioned above is, on its own, an important consideration for both competitive and recreational cyclists. Using any one of these items while cycling can have a positive impact on your musculoskeletal health and leave your feet in as good a shape—or, as is often the case, in even better shape—than before you set out on your ride. And that's the hallmark of a helpful piece of footgear: It should, over time, offer you the possibility of realizing optimal foot health.
What a lot of riders find—and what we ourselves have discovered—is that using all of these items together when cycling results in the most comfortable ride possible (at least as it concerns the feet). We have also found that the combination of the products discussed here enhances our riding experience (by enabling a more efficient recruitment of the lower body prime movers) and allows us to achieve our strongest and most powerful pedal stroke possible. We hope that you too have the opportunity to use the above products to pedal and power your bike!
Additional Cycling-Related Resources
Here are some additional cycling-related resources that you might find interesting:
If you have any questions about any of the products mentioned in this article, please do reach out to us with your questions!