The Short Answer is:
Numbness in the legs while cycling is a common issue that can be caused by poor bike fit, inadequate or over-training, poor cycling posture or an incorrect bike fit. The compression of nerves causes numbness in the legs, feet, or perineum. As the soft tissue compresses, it places pressure on the particular nerve and blocks the electrochemical signals. This is less about blood flow and more about a blockage of the peripheral nerves. To prevent and manage numbness while cycling, you can make a few small changes to your fit and equipment, such as adjusting your bike position and posture, changing your hand position on the handlebar frequently, and wearing well-fitted gloves.
Cycling is a popular form of exercise and transportation, but it can come with some uncomfortable side effects. One of the most common complaints among cyclists is leg numbness, which can occur during or after a ride.
Leg numbness after cycling can be caused by a variety of factors, including poor bike fit, ill-fitting shoes, and nerve pressure. In some cases, it may be a sign of a more serious condition, such as pudendal neuropathy or sciatic nerve issues.
In this article, we will explore the causes of leg numbness after cycling and provide tips on how to prevent and treat it.
Table of Contents
Understanding the Causes of Leg Numbness After Cycling
Leg numbness after cycling is a common complaint among cyclists. Here are some of the causes of leg numbness after cycling:
- Nerve pressure: Numb feet are caused by nerve pressure. As you exercise, the blood flowing to your muscles increases, causing your foot volume to increase. This can put pressure on the nerves in your feet and cause numbness.
- Poor bike fit: Most numbness issues are caused by poor bike fit. The position of the cyclist on the bike can put pressure on nerves and blood vessels, leading to numbness in the legs, hands, and feet. A certified bike fitter can help determine what’s causing foot and toe issues.
- Cyclist’s palsy: Cyclist’s palsy typically develops during long-distance or prolonged cycling and occurs with both mountain bike and road cyclists. The position of the hands while holding the handlebar puts pressure on the nerves in the wrist. This pressure of holding the handlebar in combination with vibrations from the road or trails can be enough to damage the nerve due to compression.
- Arterial kinking: Arterial kinking of the external iliac artery during hip flexion while cycling has been known to produce pain affecting the buttock, anterolateral thigh, calf, and foot with feelings of paraesthesia and numbness in the toes. Cyclists may also describe the feeling of ‘fullness’ in the leg and lack of power, cramping, and/or ischaemic-like fatigue.
- Mechanical irritation: Similar altered sensations can occur in the upper limb. It doesn’t have to be from spinal pathology. Other causes can be mechanical irritation in the periphery, affecting neural and/or vascular tissue.
To prevent leg numbness after cycling, it is important to ensure proper bike fit, wear well-fitted shoes, and change hand position on the handlebar frequently enough.
If you experience numbness and loss of power after dialing in fit and gear, you may have iliac artery impingement, a condition that restricts blood flow to the legs.
Common Symptoms and Experience
Leg numbness after cycling is a common problem that can be caused by various factors such as poor cycling form, cleat placement, or a too-tight closure.
The numbness can start in the buttocks and spread down the thighs while cycling, and the tingling sensation might sometimes begin between the toes and travel up the legs. Here are some common symptoms and experiences of leg numbness after cycling:
- Tingling sensation: This is the most common symptom of leg numbness after cycling. It can start in the buttocks and spread down the thighs while cycling. The tingling sensation might sometimes begin between the toes and travel up the legs.
- Numbness: Numbness in the legs and feet is another common symptom of leg numbness after cycling. It can be caused by poor cycling form, cleat placement, or a too-tight closure.
- Pain: Pain in the legs and feet can also be a symptom of leg numbness after cycling. It can be caused by inadequate padding, ill-fitting shoes, or improper bike fit.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to stop cycling as soon as possible and rest. To promote blood flow to the area, lie down or sit with your legs elevated.
For 10 to 20 minutes, avoid moving your legs. Any tight garments or pants you’re wearing should be loosened or removed. Depending on the seriousness of your case, physical therapy, medication, small lifestyle modifications, or surgery may be prescribed.
It is also important to adjust your cycling setup to prevent leg numbness in the future. Most numbness issues are caused by poor bike fit, so it is important to adjust your setup so your extremities never fall asleep on a ride again.
Preventing Leg Numbness After Cycling
Leg numbness while cycling can be caused by poor bike fit, inadequate or over-training, poor cycling posture, or an incorrect saddle tilt. Here are some tips to prevent leg numbness while cycling:
- Check your saddle tilt: The top of the saddle should be parallel to the ground, which allows your sit bones to carry most of your weight.
- Adjust your bike setup: Test-ride a few saddles with varying shapes and thicknesses to find the one that’s right for your body. If you still experience numbness and loss of power after dialing in fit and gear, you may have iliac artery impingement, a condition that restricts blood flow to the legs.
- Wear well-padded gloves: This can help absorb the shocks and jolts from the road and prevent numbness in your hands and fingers while cycling.
- Cushion the pressure points: Use padded handlebars, handlebar grips, or padded cycling gloves to provide an extra layer of fat tissue inside the palms of the hands so that there is better shock absorption and protection from pressure.
- Keep your elbows slightly bent: Bent elbows will act as shock absorbers for any bumps in the road and will alleviate shocks from the hands.
- Rest your hands smoothly on the handlebar: The hands should not be gripping excessively, but resting smoothly on the handlebar.
- Stand up on the pedals: If you experience perineal pressure, stand up on the pedals to relieve it. When you return to a seated position, make sure to anchor on top of your sit bones.
- Use the right pedals: Use pedals that support the arch of the foot for better power transmission and relieve the overstrained nerves.
By following these tips, you can prevent leg numbness while cycling and enjoy a comfortable ride.
Managing Leg Numbness
Cycling is a great way to stay fit and healthy, but it can also cause leg numbness, which can be uncomfortable and even painful. Here are some strategies to manage leg numbness in cycling:
1. In-Ride Strategies
- Proper Bike Fit: Poor cycling form, cleat placement, or a too-tight closure are common causes of numbness and pain in the legs and feet. Measuring your proportions and locating a seat that supports your weight correctly can help prevent numbness.
- Rest: If your legs feel numb, try to keep off your feet as much as possible. Lie flat to increase blood flow and relieve pressure on the nerves of your lower body. Resting is of utmost importance after cycling. Remember to listen to your body and stop cycling as soon as you get numbness or tingling in your legs. To promote blood flow to the area, lie down or sit with your legs elevated. For 10 to 20 minutes, avoid moving your legs. Any tight garments or pants you’re wearing should be loosened or removed.
- Ice: Ice can help to minimize the swelling that puts pressure on nerves. Several times a day, apply cold compresses or wrap ice packs to numb your legs.
2. Post-Ride Recovery
- Stretching: Stretching after a ride can help to reduce muscle tension and improve circulation. Focus on stretching your legs, hips, and lower back.
- Massage: Massaging your legs after a ride can help to improve circulation and reduce muscle tension. Use a foam roller or massage ball to target specific areas of your legs.
- Footwear: Ill-fitting footwear is the root cause of most lower-extremity numbness. When shopping for cycling shoes, consider their width and height in addition to numerical size. Shoes with more height allow for taller arches, and shoes that are too small pinch nerves in your metatarsal arch at the ball of the foot. The arch will collapse if it’s not adequately buttressed, so be sure yours has sufficient support.
3. Medical Attention
- Professional Evaluation: If symptoms persist or worsen, consult a healthcare professional or a sports medicine specialist for a proper evaluation. They can provide treatment options, such as splinting, physical therapy, or in severe cases, surgical intervention.
- Pudendal Neuropathy: Pudendal nerve pressure neuropathy can result from prolonged cycling, particularly when using a poor riding technique. If you experience symptoms such as pain, numbness, or tingling in the perineal area, seek medical attention.
- Cyclist’s Palsy: Cyclist’s palsy can cause both motor and sensory symptoms. The motor symptoms can include weak hand grip and difficulty using fingers for precise tasks, whereas the common sensory effects include numbness, tingling, and pain. Rest and medications provide short-term recovery from cyclist’s palsy symptoms. However, exercises, changes in cycling habits, and the use of appropriate gloves and hoods are crucial for an effective long-term recovery and avoiding recurrence. If you experience symptoms of cyclist’s palsy, seek medical attention.
Leg numbness is a common issue among cyclists, but it can be managed with proper in-ride strategies, post-ride recovery, and medical attention if necessary. By taking care of your body and listening to its signals, you can enjoy cycling without discomfort or pain.
When to Seek Professional Help
Cycling numbness is a common issue that many cyclists face. While it is often not a cause for concern, there are times when it is important to seek professional help. Here are some situations when you should consider seeking medical evaluation:
1. Chronic or Recurring Numbness
If you experience numbness that is chronic or recurring, it may be a sign of a more serious issue. Chronic numbness can be a sign of nerve damage, which can lead to long-term problems if left untreated.
If you experience numbness that lasts for more than a few days or that occurs frequently, it is important to seek medical evaluation.
2. Sudden or Severe Symptoms
If you experience sudden or severe numbness, it may be a sign of a medical emergency. Sudden numbness can be a sign of a stroke or other serious condition.
If you experience sudden numbness, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as weakness or difficulty speaking, seek medical attention immediately.
3. Medical Evaluation
If you have tried self-help solutions and are still experiencing numbness, it may be time to seek medical evaluation. A professional bike fitting can help identify any issues with your bike fit that may be contributing to your numbness.
Occupational or physical therapy treatments can also be helpful in relieving persistent numbness. If your numbness worsens or becomes persistent, it is important to seek medical help from an occupational or physical therapist.
While cycling numbness is often not a cause for concern, there are times when it is important to seek professional help.
If you experience chronic or recurring numbness, sudden or severe symptoms, or have tried self-help solutions without success, it is important to seek medical evaluation.
Frequently Asked Questions Related to Leg Numbness After Cycling:
How do I heal my legs after cycling?
Cycling can be a great workout for your legs, but it’s important to take steps to help your muscles recover afterward. One way to aid recovery is to take time to cool down after your ride, allowing your blood vessels to return to normal and equalize blood flow to the rest of your body.
Elevating your legs can also help reduce swelling and gently stretch your hamstrings. Massaging your legs can help push out fluids carrying waste products during muscle breakdown and encourage fresh blood to flow in and help rebuild.
Stretching before a ride can help warm up your muscles while stretching after a ride can help relieve symptoms of muscle stiffness and soreness. Finally, rest is vital for recovery and muscle repair, so make sure to get plenty of sleep and take time to relax.
Conclusion on Leg Numbness After Cycling
In conclusion, leg numbness after cycling is a common issue that can be caused by poor cycling form, cleat placement, or a too-tight closure. It is important to listen to your body and stop cycling as soon as you get numbness or tingling in your legs.
To promote blood flow to the area, lie down or sit with your legs elevated and avoid moving your legs for 10 to 20 minutes. Any tight garments or pants you’re wearing should be loosened or removed.
Depending on the seriousness of your case, physical therapy, medication, small lifestyle modifications, or surgery may be prescribed. To prevent leg numbness, it is important to adjust your bike setup so your extremities never fall asleep on a ride again.
This includes ensuring proper bike fit, wearing appropriate footwear, and testing out different saddle shapes and thicknesses. Cyclist’s palsy is another condition that can cause hand pain and numbness during long-distance or prolonged cycling.
It is caused by pressure on the nerves in the wrist due to the position of the hands while holding the handlebar and can be exacerbated by vibrations from the road or trails.