Numbness or Tingling in Feet during Exercise 

We often receive questions about numb feet during exercise. The sensation of the feet falling asleep during exercise is a relatively common problem.

In particular, we hear a lot of complaints about toes that go numb on an elliptical machine and treadmill but the problem of tingling and numb feet and toes can happen during any exercise activity.

Despite increased blood flow to all parts of the body during increased physical activity – numbness, tingling, and a burning sensation during exercise is fairly common. This is usually not caused by a lack of blood flow but, instead, by compression or pressure on the nerves that lead from the foot to the toes. If you regularly experience this problem while riding your bike or working out, contact us.

If you are experiencing numbness or tingling when you exercise, contact us for an appointment in our Seattle clinic. Be sure to bring your exercise shoes with you when you come to see us.

Video: Causes and Treatment of Numb Feet During Exercise

What Activities Cause Feet to Go Numb?

Almost any exercise activity can lead to the feet and toes falling asleep, but the most common activities that cause numb feet and toes are bicycling, elliptical machine, Stairmaster, and sometimes the treadmill. Conservative treatment for numb and tingling feet while working out is very effective, pain-free, and doesn’t require surgery.

What Causes Foot Numbness and Burning Feet during Workouts? 

Most of the time, the cause of numb or burning feet during a workout is pressure or compression of the nerves that run from the foot into the toes. In particular, too much pressure on the nerves that run under the ball of the foot will lead to toe tingling and numb feet while exercising, biking or using other equipment where you put pressure on your feet.

Sometimes a neuroma is present and can contribute to the problem but usually it is simply too much pressure on the nerves that causes the problem. If you have a neuroma, treatment might be a little more involved.

How Do We Stop Feet and Toes From Falling Asleep during Workouts? 

To stop your feet and toes from falling asleep during a workout, our primary goal is to decrease pressure on the ball of the foot and stop any compression of the feet.

We recommend a very specific type of orthotic device for your workout or biking shoes. To eliminate numbness, the orthotic must very aggressively act to reduce pressure on the bottom of the foot.

To accomplish this, the orthotic must conform extremely close to the arch of the foot – these are called total contact orthotics. Total contact orthotics are far more effective than standard orthotics at transferring pressure off of the ball of the foot.

We will also evaluate your shoe fit. If your shoes are even a little too tight, it can compress the foot and contribute to numbness in your feet and toes.

How Do We Treat Numb Feet in Cyclists? 

We see many patients with feet that fall asleep while biking. This occurs because the axis of the pedal runs under the ball of the foot and puts extreme pressure on the nerves there.

In addition, biking shoes tend to run small and during a long bike ride, feet tend to swell. Cyclists are prone to overuse injuries by pushing beyond their limitations.

The two most common overuse injuries that cause numb and tingling feet and toes are peripheral neuritis and Morton’s neuroma.

Peripheral neuritis is an inflammation of the nerves that travel under the ball of the foot into the toes. The bicycle pedal causes pressure on the ball of the foot that inflames and irritates nerves leading to the feeling of numb feet and tingling toes.

Treating Neuritis in Bicyclists 

To treat peripheral neuritis and eliminate burning and numb feet that occur during cycling, we can make a pair of custom orthotics for your bike shoes from a very thin material so that they don’t take up room in your bike shoes. The very thin orthotic in your biking shoe acts to transfer force off of the ball of the foot and onto the arch, eliminating pressure on the nerves.

Be sure to bring your bike shoes in with you for your consultation so we can evaluate the fit. If the shoe is too small, even the best orthotic won’t stop your feet from going numb when you bike. We’ll let you know if you need new bike shoes to help eliminate the problem.

Neuromas usually cause pain in the forefoot, particularly in the area of the third and fourth toes. The pain can be shooting, burning, stabbing, radiating or just an odd feeling. The pain often lessens with removal of shoe and massaging the area. We can use ultrasound imaging to look for a neuroma then pursue conservative treatments such as orthotics, injections of local anesthetic and corticosteroids, chemical neurolysis, or a change to a shoe with a wider box.

What Causes Tingling Feet When Using an Elliptical Machine?

Many people who use an elliptical machine for exercise thoroughly enjoy the workout experience but many also experience tingling or numbness in their toes, or a burning sensation in the soles of their feet.

If you regularly experience tingling feet from elliptical machine use, there a few reasons for this and, so long as you don’t have a pre-existing foot condition, they can usually be resolved quite easily.

The most likely reasons for tingling feet during use of an elliptical machine include:

  • Constant pressure on the balls of your feet

When you use an elliptical machine, even if your legs are pumping like crazy, your feet are not actually moving – they are firmly planted as you grind off the calories. The resulting pressure on the balls of your feet can reduce blood flow to your toes, causing them to go numb and/or tingle as blood flow returns. To avoid this, shift the position of your feet occasionally to allow for proper blood flow to the toes. In addition you can use custom orthotics or OTC arch supports

to transfer pressure off of the ball of the foot.

  • Your shoes may be too small

If the shoes don’t fit, you must quit! Wearing the right sized shoe will help you avoid tingling feet from elliptical machine use. Also, make sure the shoes provide proper support. If you continue to experience this problem, try buying some new shoes for your workout.

  • Your laces may be too tight

A snug fit during a workout is a good thing so the shoes don’t slip. However, if you tie your laces too tightly, you can cause numbness and tingling. If your shoes fit properly, you will not need to lace them so tightly that they inhibit blood flow in your feet.

For help in finding the best shoe fit, check out our Shoe Fitting Tip page and our How to Evaluate Shoes page to determine if the shoes you wear during exercise are the right shoes for you. You may also want to watch our How to Evaluate a Shoe video.

If you have tried the above recommended solutions but are still dealing with tingling feet when you use an elliptical machine, make an appointment to see us as soon as you can – and bring your shoes with you for an expert evaluation of your feet, your shoes, and your gait.

Self-Treatment for Numb Feet and Tingling in Feet During Exercise 

Your goal is to reduce pressure on the ball of the foot without taking up any room in the toe box of the shoe that could increase pressure on your foot and irritate the nerves. You want to use an arch support that is somewhat rigid, conforms to the arch of your foot closely, and does not extend under the toes.

For an over-the-counter orthotic, we recommend FootChair Slim Orthotic.

It has a unique adjustable insole with a high level of support designed to transfer pressure off the ball of the foot in order to relieve numbness and tingling.

The three-quarter length allows for toe room even in tighter fitting shoes – even bicycle and soccer shoes.

Call the Foot and Ankle Center about Numb and Tingling Feet and Toes

Don’t let your workout be ruined by numb feet and tingling toes. Contact us for an appointment. Make an appointment online or call us at (206) 344-3808 so we can help you get back to exercising in comfort. We are conveniently located near downtown Seattle close to Swedish Medical Center.

Numb and Tingling Feet Medical References:

  • MJ Mueller, DJ Lott, et al, “Efficacy and mechanism of orthotic devices to unload metatarsal heads in people with diabetes and a history of plantar ulcers,” Physical Therapy (86)6 (June 2006): 833-42.
  • L Trotter and M Pierrynowski, “Changes in Gait Economy Between Full-Contact Custom-made Foot Orthoses and Prefabricated Inserts in Patients with Musculoskeletal Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” Journal of American Podiatric Medical Association 98 (2008): 429-435.
  • AC Chalmers, CJ Busby, “Metatarsalgia and rheumatoid arthritis–a randomized, single blind, sequential trial comparing 2 types of foot orthoses and supportive shoes,” The Journal of Rheumatology 27(7) (July 2000): 1643-7.
  • L Trotter, M Pierrynowski, “The Short-term Effectiveness of Full-Contact Custom-made Foot Orthoses and Prefabricated Shoe Inserts on Lower-Extremity Musculoskeletal Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” Journal of American Podiatric Medical Association 98 (2008): 357-363.

2023 Shoe Guide and Recommendations

Shoes recommended by our doctors - subscribe now

for shoe list and weekly foot health newsletter


Thank you! 

Check your email for your shoe guide 

You will also receive our weekly shoe recommendations and foot health newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any time.