For experienced runners: My left foot goes numb when I run. Why?
April 10, 2014 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm an amateur runner warming up to the sport, and have been training for a four mile race. Consistently around the 2-3 mile mark my left foot goes numb; first I notice a slight tingling, and eventually it's like I'm running on one foot. I went to my primary care doctor, and he suggested I get a new pair of shoes at a specialty store, which I did. I tried running again today, and the problem hasn't gone away. I'd like to get this fixed without going to the doctor again, so if anyone has dealt with this issue before I'd love to hear what was wrong and how you (hopefully) fixed it.

The numbness starts around the ball of the foot, and then becomes more of a full-foot thing.

I was surprised at the specialty store; I thought they would be a lot more hands-on with figuring out what kind of shoe was right for me but I felt like I was shopping at Wal-mart. So, I was wondering if the shoes I ended up purchasing are too small. They're Mizuno Wave Runner 17`s. They are on the smaller side and do feel snug, but not uncomfortably so (I purchased 11.5's because they felt right, in the past I've gone with 12's). I just purchased them, so maybe they'll get better when they are broken in.

I used to run track in high school, but I've never really had this issue before. I'm not sure what it could be, and so would appreciate any insight more experienced runners might be able to give. The numbness does not occur on every run, but I would say it happens close to 75 percent of the time.

Extra details: I am on an average dose of Adderall XR, which I understand causes vasoconstriction. I've wondered if this might be exacerbating the problem, and might try running without it one of these days. Unfortunately, it helps me out in so many other ways when I am not running.
posted by CottonCandyCapers to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've had numbness in my toes periodically. This is strictly anecdotal but it seems to happen when my shoes are laced too tightly. I have a pair that have more cushion on the back side of the tongue. That combined with lacing a tiny bit looser seems to help.
posted by Beti at 4:18 PM on April 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm a runner and this happens when my shoes don't fit right. Get new shoes at a different store for runners.
posted by kinetic at 4:26 PM on April 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah this is a lace-tying issue for me too. Can you play around with how you tie your laces (looser), or try some of the running shoes that have off-center lacing?
posted by brainmouse at 4:28 PM on April 10, 2014

Try running with your laces really loose, or laced in a different way (there are dozens of ways to lace your shoes and many really affect how the shoe fits on your foot). You might need a different insole. Or even a different shoe.

Did the store have a treadmill with a video camera to film you running? That's a pretty good indicator of a store that knows how to evaluate your needs.
posted by suelac at 4:29 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I didn't see a treadmill while there. They didn't check my gait, they didn't even measure my feet. They just looked at the back of my old shoe and said "okay, these shoes would probably be good for you."

I was honestly pretty surprised since my doctor - who runs marathons - recommended the place. I probably shouldn't have bought them, but they look rad and did feel pretty darn good when I was in the store. At least the price was discounted, so there's that.

I'd like to take these back and try a different store, but I used the shoes outside (it was beautiful so I couldn't resist a run in the local park) and they're already a little dirty so I'm not sure if I can return them. I'm torn between trying for an exchange, or loosening the laces up and attempting another run.
posted by CottonCandyCapers at 4:38 PM on April 10, 2014

I have a high instep, and this happens to me when my laces are too tight. (The instep is the top of your foot. I guess the nerves get squished?) I tie my laces sort of like the middle picture here.
posted by samthemander at 4:41 PM on April 10, 2014

Go to a different running store. My wife got excellent shoe recommendations at a specialty shop here in Chicago (Universal Sole) after she had a horrible problem with blisters. She spent some time on a treadmill and they guy made a recommendation that greatly reduced the problem.

Check some local runner forums to see what store they recommend.
posted by srboisvert at 4:52 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another ditto on the lace-tying thing. This used to happen to me all the time. I'd run through it, and after my runs, my feet would hurt so much I'd have to soak them in an epsom bath. Then I started paying attention to the laces and tying them approximately as loosely as I could stand, and presto! No more numbness, no more foot problems.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:53 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would definitely also go back to the shop with the shoes and explain the situation. If they came recommended, maybe you just got a salesperson having a bad day. It happens. I'm sure they'll set you up.
posted by kinetic at 5:02 PM on April 10, 2014

This happens to me when my shoes are wearing out or my laces are tied incorrectly. This brief video at Runner's World was useful for me in addressing this, but YMMV.

I also occasionally go numb when I'm running on a road with a particularly acute slope from the center line to the curb. I usually address this in the obvious ways - selecting alternate routes or running on flatter surfaces.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:07 PM on April 10, 2014

On the recommendation of more than one running shoe store, I size up at least one size from my normal shoe size for running shoes. I never had a problem of numbness previous to doing this, but my feet are much happier now.
posted by piyushnz at 7:02 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Happens to me when my feet are or have recently been cold. Low-dose aspirin is supposed to help open up blood flow to fix it, but the weather's been warming up so I haven't bothered.
posted by vegartanipla at 7:25 PM on April 10, 2014

I have had this happen to me once -- on a long run on the beach. My entire foot went numb. I am not sure what caused the numbness but I thought it may have something to do with an uneven running surface. I have a pretty wide beach where I run. On this particular night, because of the tide and recent storms, I was running on a slight slope. Because my gait was uneven, my ankle and foot on one leg were falling akwardly and cutting off blood supply. This is my theory and could be total bunk but it happened once and this is what I chalked it up to. Make sure you are not running on the side of the road where the pavement slopes, or on any uneven trail or surface.

You never want to "break in" a running shoe, in my opinion. If anything you should be buying your running shoe a half size too big. I wear a 10, women's. I buy a 10.5 Brooks running shoe -- Ghost. I have never been to a fancy running store and only wear Brooks. They are the best running shoe in my experience.
posted by Fairchild at 7:35 PM on April 10, 2014

Happens to me when laces are too tight. Props to your doc for being a runner, but I would consider a podiatrist in future, esp one that specialises in athletes. They see everything.
posted by smoke at 7:37 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know about your specialty store, but the running stores I've been to have had a pretty liberal return policy — something like 30 days whether or not you've run outside in them. It could be worth checking with your store.
posted by stopgap at 8:32 PM on April 10, 2014

Try lydiard lacing your shoes. It really does reduce constriction of your feet.
posted by monotreme at 11:13 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go and see a physiotherapist. Or physical therapist. There is potentially an issue with pressure building up in your lower leg that in turn compresses one or more nerves. It is not likely to be your shoes.

But see a physio who specializes in runners.
posted by flutable at 12:56 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try different ways of lacing and if that doesn't help, keep trying different shoes. I have this happen with some shoes but not all. At least run around the block before you buy a pair of running shoes, and know and understand the return policy at the store. (Return policy is super-important: a store that has a liberal return policy has a stronger motivation to make sure you get good shoes the first time!) I think as a beginning runner, it can be especially hard to notice the thing that's going to bother you after two miles when you're just walking around the store.
posted by mskyle at 6:44 AM on April 11, 2014

I have this experience in one or both of my feet around the 3 mile mark. It does not matter how tight or loose my shoes are. The factors that contribute are: sitting at my desk all day, heat, dehydration. The numbness never happens if I run in the morning rather than the afternoon.

There are a couple of things that have helped me move past it: Take a break and stretch. Lie down and lift your foot above your heart to get things moving, and allow the numbness to go away before you start running again. Stay hydrated. I have noticed that drinking lots of water (2 liters) throughout the day before I go running helps with a lot of the little weird things that can go on when running (cramps, numbness, etc.).
posted by Packy_1962 at 7:56 AM on April 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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