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Why do my feet fall asleep when I exercise?

Ask The Trainer: Why do my feet fall asleep when I exercise?

Q: For whatever reason, when I’m on the elliptical machine trying to do my cardio, my feet start to feel like they’re falling asleep, and I have to stop. Any idea what could be causing this?

A: The causes of foot numbness or pain during exercise can vary. One common reason is that with weight-bearing exercise the feet can swell, sometimes as much as a full shoe size, impeding circulation. Weight-bearing activities are those where the body is upright such as stairclimbing, walking, running and the elliptical. Faulty movement patterns, rolling the feet out or in excessively, can also place unnatural pressure on the feet.

Worn out or ill-fitting shoes can create feet and ankle problems. Footwear must be wide enough to allow room for the toes and forefoot yet not so loose that they prevent adequate support. Shoes should bend only at the ball of the foot, not in the center of the arch. Laces should not be pulled too tightly. When shopping for shoes, check with a footwear store professional, who can look at your gait, obtain measurements and provide recommendations as to which shoes are best for your chosen activity.

More tips:

• When using cardio equipment, avoid coming up onto the toes, which places weight onto the forefoot rather than keeping it evenly distributed. Instead, try to keep the entire foot in contact with the pedal surface.

• When shopping for shoes, have your feet measured while you’re standing, and because feet are usually not exactly the same size, buy the size measured for the larger foot.

• Try on more than one pair of shoes before making a decision and walk around for a minute or two to get a good idea of comfort and support.

• The heels of your shoes should be snug enough so that they do not slide when you are walking, and there should be enough room to wiggle your toes (1/2 to a full thumb’s distance between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe’s toe box).

• Shoes should not need a “breaking-in” period, they should fit comfortably immediately.

• Manufacturers sizing molds vary, and foot size can change over time, so don’t rely on the size of your last pair of shoes when buying new ones.

• Because feet swell as the day goes on, try to shop for shoes in the late afternoon or evening.

• Although many shoes are designed exactly the opposite, the widest part of the foot should always correspond to the widest part of the shoe.

• When trying them on, wear the same type of socks or stockings you expect to be wearing with the shoes you are buying. If you wear orthotics or other inserts, take them along to shoe fittings.

Numbness can be associated with nerve problems and other medical conditions, and so if symptoms persist, it is important to check with your doctor.

Other possible causes of foot numbness or pain:

• Decreased flexibility in the foot and ankle, muscles in one leg or foot are weaker than the other, and tightness in the Achilles tendon.

• Repetitive, high-impact activities and/or improper form.

• Being overweight.

• Sudden increases in the duration, frequency or intensity of activities.

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