Do you get numb feet when running? What about your hands? Do they tingle? Is it uncomfortable? There are many reasons this may happen, and things you can do to prevent it!
If the numbness happens in both your hands and feet on occasion, you are not alone! Some people have the discomfort not just while running, but also during cross-training.
One reason for this phenomenon is because your nerves have all kinds of responsibilities and sensory nerves are no exception to that rule. Any change in blood supply can impact these sensory nerves. If you experience a change in blood supply to your hands, for example, this can result in this numbness or tingling sensation.
It even has a name: Paresthesia.
Remember sitting cross-legged on the floor and when you get up, feeling a funny sensation? Your parents may have told you that your leg or foot had, “fallen asleep.” This sensation is paresthesia! Caused by the pressure that cuts off the circulation, it typically goes away fairly quickly.
If it is a frequent and chronic problem that does not correlate with a clear reason (such as sitting on your foot, for example), it could be an underlying neurological issue that should be addressed by a medical professional.
Likely, if you get numbness in your hands or feet during a workout, it might be resulting from how you are positioning your body. Let me explain further.
Running and Hand Numbness
While running, you likely have your arm cocked into a position where it is bent at the elbow. This puts your ulnar nerve across your elbow, which cuts off the blood supply. The result of this is that numb, tingling feeling we discussed. This is why you often see runners shaking their hands out, or running with their hands down, during a distance run.
If you clench your hands tightly while running, this can also cause hand numbness. Truthfully, clenching anything (think jaw, teeth, etc.) while running is not the best choice. You should focus on trying to run relaxed.
In addition, you should avoid pumping your arms too vigorously or tensing your arms up when you move them. Either of these can also cause that tingling.
While some runners are seen with their hands down due to numbness, others run with what we call jazz hands to eliminate this tingling or numbness (See photo below).
When Your Feet Go Numb
One of the most common causes of foot pain and numbness while running is when your shoes do not fit properly. Many runners do not realize that running shoes should be one-half to one full size bigger than your day to day shoes. Runners who experience problems, including but not limited to foot numbness, may find the shoe they are running in is not a good fit for them.
It is strongly recommended that people visit a local running store for a gait analysis and fitting. Professionals put you onto a treadmill, watch how you run, and make recommendations.
Modifying Your Laces Might Help
You also may have your shoelaces tied too tightly, which can cause numbness. Sometimes people’s feet have characteristics that make it in their best interest to tie their shoes differently. For example, if you have a wide forefoot, you may need to leave a gap in your laces (as illustrated above in the lower right of the image).
If you experience tightness overall, lacing number five (lower center of image) might help you feel more comfortable. Changing how you lace your shoes can prevent numbness, tingling, and other forms of foot discomfort.
Consider Your Footfall
Sometimes, how your feet land when you run can cause discomfort. If you are overstriding and you experience numbness, that could be the reason. Running with an overextended stride can cause you to strike with the heel. If you have a gait analysis and are doing this, try to make a conscious effort to shorten your stride some.
Numbness During Other Forms of Exercise
Some athletes also get numbness during other forms of exercise. Whether cycling, cross-training on the elliptical or doing something else, that numbness can occur.
Many people report numbness on the elliptical, particularly in the toes. This is most common in people who “run” on the elliptical on their toes. Of course, you aren’t really running. What we mean is that you are making the pedals of the elliptical move primarily with your toes touching (and nothing else), you may find yourself feeling numb.
If this happens to you, think about pushing with your entire foot. Focus on having your heel press down on the pedals. If heels and toes stay in contact you are less likely to have problems.
Many runners also cycle as a form of cross-training. It is not uncommon for cyclists to have numbness in feet and/or toes. This could be caused by shoes that are too tight. If you wear cycling shoes with clips, the positioning of the clips could also cause numbness.
Poor cycling posture can also cause numbness in the feet. Also, needing arch support in cycling shoes can cause discomfort. Placing an insert into your cycling shoes can help alleviate that.
Cycling can also cause discomfort and numbness in your hands. Nerve compression in your shoulder, wrist, and elbow can cause numbness that can last anywhere from minutes to hours post-run. One way to avoid this is to sit back in the saddle.
A proper bike fitting when purchasing your ride can help prevent problems.
The bottom line is that your numbness can be prevented, in many cases. Whether it is in your feet or in your hands, running only or other forms of exercise, there are things you can do.