Posted in fitness, running

Sleepy Toes

I have a problem.  Well, two, actually, but both happen to be in the same area.

Now that I’m able to run non-stop for longer periods (I’m up to 25 minutes of continuous running!), I’ve noticed that the three smallest toes from my left foot become numb about 10-15 minutes into my runs.  This has been going on for a couple of weeks now and though it is not a big problem for now, it is certainly an annoyance.  At first, I thought it might be because my socks were too thick, so I tried thinner socks.  Then I thought that it was because my laces were too tight, so I loosened them.  But I still get numb toes when I run.  And only in my left foot.

I’ve also been noticing a slight pain in my left foot lately.  It feels as though my bones are compressed (if that makes any sense).  I generally only feel the pain when I’m sitting cross-legged, so I figured that maybe I should just stop sitting that way and it would go away.  It hasn’t.  Then I realized that this pain has only been going on since I started running.

I thought that running was most likely the culprit of the two conditions, but then I remembered that this toe numbness also happens when I rollerblade and when I skate (and has been for many years).  Except, it didn’t really bother me, because I wasn’t going out rollerblading or skating nearly as often as I go running now (which is every 2 days).

Anyways, I, quite obviously, turned to Dr. Google for an explanation for this and here is what I learned.


Most likely, it is caused by nerve compression in my foot.  It appears that the most common site of nerve compression is between the third and fourth toe (as is happening to me).  It would seem that the numbness can be caused by the repeated pounding of the foot on the pavement, by wearing a shoe that is too narrow or by an imperceptible swelling of the foot during a run (source).  Besides problems with the shoe (like tightening the laces too much or wearing socks that are too thick), foot numbness can also be caused by an injury (that may or may not be caused by not resting enough between runs, having poor running form and logging in more running miles too quickly) or the structure of the runner’s foot (having flat feet or an overly flexible sole puts a runner at a greater risk for nerve compression) (source).


So what can be done about this problem?

1.  Start with the shoe.  Try loosening the laces, using thinner socks.  Consider trying another pair of shoes that has a wider toe box.  One of the articles I read even suggested buying shoes one size larger than the shoes you normally wear to accommodate the spread of the toes upon impact and thicker socks, but I personally don’t see the value in this.

2.  Look at your training.  Check if the numbness appears even if you integrate some walking intervals in your training.  Try giving your body longer resting periods between runs.  Make sure you increase your distance and running time gradually.

3.  Turn to the medical field.  One article suggested taking ibuprofen before a run to stop the foot from swelling, but I personally don’t want to be popping a pill every two days just to go running when there are other things I can do.  Special insoles can also be placed under the forefoot to gently spread the bones that are compressing the offending nerve apart.

For my part, I’ve already tried fiddling with my laces and socks to no avail.  I really don’t want to have to put in walking intervals in my runs, because I don’t see this as a long term solution to be able to run (because walking isn’t running).  I know I’ve only been increasing my distance and run times slightly so that  can’t be the problem.  I’m pretty sure my form isn’t the problem either because the same nerve compression happens to me when I rollerblade and skate – two low-impact sports.

Sooo… what’s left for me is finding a new pair of shoes that has a larger toe box (which, isn’t a problem, really, I mean, a girl can’t have too many pairs of shoes, right ;)).  I think I’ll also give my doctor a call.  Perhaps she’ll refer me to a podiatrist or perhaps she’ll have other thoughts on the cause of my toe numbness.

Have you experienced toe numbness during runs?  What worked for you?


Thirty-something year old discovering the joys and bumps of motherhood.

5 thoughts on “Sleepy Toes

  1. I have problems like that all over my foot when I eat bread. No other issues with bread I know about. Just my feet. It’s weird.

  2. Often this is a Morton’s neuroma. I have this. My husband, an orthopedic surgeon, injected it for me about five years ago. That’s a funny story. I pulled my foot back from his hand from the pain when he injected it and the needle went out the other side (as in completely through my foot, top to bottom). He was quite exasperated with me, saying nobody else had ever done that to him. Anyhow, walking barefoot on concrete can bother mine. A good shoe fit helps; Nikes are a no-go for me–New Balances work well for me. Minimizing my distances help. And, I wasn’t going to type this, but then I looked up and saw Julie’s comment. I figure if she can say it, I can too. When I first went GF/DF three years ago, I noticed that my Morton’s neuroma pain subsided immensely. She may be on target. Foods are inflammatory, and where we get those little aches and pains and stuffy noses, etc, can be affected by food. Now, I need to pay attention when I do a gluten re-introduction one day. Good luck! The injection wasn’t too bad, and it did help back when.

    1. Yes, I read about Morton’s neuroma. It’s annoying. Hehe, funny about the needle going through and through…well, maybe not when it happened, but in hindsight 😉

      Oddly enough, it was Nike shoes that I was wearing. They felt great for walking, not so much for running. I guess my feet are too darn wide for them.

      I’m happy that you mention food as well. I had no idea that some foods were inflammatory. I will definitely have to experiment. I mean, who wants to use medication when you can fix the same problems by changing diet, right?

      Thanks for the info, Terri!

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