What Causes Numbness Of the Toes While Working Out?

Written by neima binaisa
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What Causes Numbness Of the Toes While Working Out?
(Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Steve Ling)

The feeling of numb toes while working out is primarily caused by pressure or compression of nerves that extend from the feet into the toes. This results in either poor circulation or nerve damage that in turn leaves a feeling of numbness. Several workout activities can result in numbness of the toes. However, the most common routines associated with this feeling include cycling, running or walking on a treadmill, and use of either Stairmaster or elliptical machines. Among factors that contribute to numb toes while working out are posture, shoe size and poor circulation due to possible underlying medical conditions.


Excessive pressure applied on the nerves that run from the ball of the foot to the toes often results in numbness or tingling of toes during workouts. To avoid this, individuals should concentrate on adopting a heel-to-toe movement by relaxing their strides and letting their toes flatten out with each step. Toes should not be curled, as this adds pressure and increases the feeling of numbness.

Shoe Size

When workout shoes are either too tight or too short, toes tend to bang into the shoes' toe box, which is the area where the big toe rests. This results in pressure being applied to the toes and a consequent feeling of numbness. If workout shoes are too big, the foot could also keep sliding forward, resulting in the same problem. Workout shoes should typically be about a size larger than dress shoes in order to allow for feet to swell both lengthwise and widthways during workouts. Additionally, workout shoes should be laced up to have a firm but not tight fit on the top of the foot.

Heat Loss

Cold weather removes heat from the body's extremities first, and this may sometimes result in numb toes during workouts. In this case, heat may be added to the body by wearing a pair of athletic non-cotton socks.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Numbness and tingling in toes and feet may also be a sign of nerve damage which affects the body's extremities, also known as peripheral neuropathy. This nerve damage is often associated with diabetes, as it is a result of chronically high blood sugar. While specific symptoms may vary depending on the type of nerves affected, others may include a gradual increase of numbness and tingling from the toes extending upwards to feet and arms, sharp pains, sensitivity to touch, lack of coordination and muscle weakness and paralysis. Besides diabetes, toe numbness may also be a sign of other chronic disorders. In this case, medical attention should be sought.

Tips and Warnings

Some treadmills and elliptical machines may have inherent flaws in the way they are built that result in having feet placed at an unnatural angle while working out. This angle may mean more pressure applied on the toes, which would result in numbness of toes during a workout.

While working out on treadmills or elliptical machines, change the position of feet every few minutes in order to relieve pressure on one area and encourage circulation. Additionally, it is effective to break up the workout in short intervals and inlcude a "reverse" period.

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