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?