Searing toe pain. Big toe. Anyone else had this issue?

i first noticed this when I did a 12 hour race a couple of weeks ago. I deduced it’s from gripping with my toes while cornering, descending, and putting out larger watts.

Gritted my teeth, got through it, got fourth overall that race.

In my training rides I spent some time being mindful not to grip with my toes. But most of my time was on the trainer and it was a non issue.
Did a 24 hour race last weekend. Was leading with 1 other rider for 14 hours who went on to win.
10 hours in I remembered “oh yeah. My toes” at that point it was too late to be mindful about it though. And the pain became so excruciating that at hour 14 I pulled out of the race like a wuss. While being in the lead /sob

My shoes are 4 years old. Ok should replace them. But cycling shoes are supposed to be rigid and inflexible and little cushioning. No tightness around the toes. Plenty of wiggle room. Happens in wet and dry. Doesn’t happen on the trainer or steady state rides.
I’m planning to replace the inserts. Maybe buff up the padding around the toe area. Wondering if anyone else has experienced this issue, or if I’m a unique snowflake for being stupid and stubborn about replacing shoes.

There’s a number of possible causes so it’s worth experimenting in training.

However, if you are indeed gripping with your toes, then this points to a lack of arch support. With the arch properly supported, you’re able to use your hole shoe as a platform. This should be comfier and more efficient.

To be fair, if you don’t experience symptoms until 12hours in then that’s not bad. I’d expect a lot of things to be hurting by then.


Depending on exactly where on your toe the pain is felt, other causes could include:

-shoe size. Maybe you have TOO MUCH wriggle room, and you’re shoving your toe in to the front of your shoe whilst pedaling.

-cleat position. As a quick start, a rearward cleat position is usually favoured over a forward position with regards to injury prevention.

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Thanks for mentioning the arch. I never would have thought about that. To be honest, I’ve always looked at shoe manufactures as witch doctors. Arch support makes my feet hurt. Used to run marathons, primarily using minimalist shoes to train, and zero drop flat inserts to run in. But maybe for cycling a little arch would be helpful.

I think my clete position is as far back as it’ll go. I adjusted them back last year to help mitigate some Achilles/calf pain. Which was successful.

This is something I struggle with as well and thought the exact same as you. I’m mostly into MTB and will notice it on any ride where I am really pushing myself, regardless of the length of the ride, it seems to be more related to how hard into the pain cave I am going.

I thought I was gripping with my toes like you mentioned and started paying a lot of attention to that but never really found myself doing that.

I have this issue with new MTB shoes that have arch support (I’m fairly flat footed). I have also had a professional fit where my cleats were adjusted (not saying they are right but hoping they are lol).

The last time this happened to me and I tried to analyze it, it felt like it was caused by my foot bouncing in my shoes just a little bit. That was mostly when I would notice the pain so I thought maybe that over time is what has caused it. It’s not really my entire foot moving, but mostly my toes hitting the top of the inside of the shoe. Obviously on an MTB the chances of your toes being thrown around as you go over rough terrain is pretty high.

Let me know if you find any relief!

I, too, have had this exact issue. Always associated with long rides or rides with exceptionally bumpy surfaces (gravel, mountain biking, or bumpy-arse roads). I cut a hole in my insoles under my big toe, which helps some, but doesn’t alleviate it. Wide shoes helps some also, but isn’t a 100% cure either. I moved my cleats back to reduce pressure, but it didn’t have a meaningful benefit and just led to massive toe overlap so I moved them to their original position.

Anyway, I’m also quite interested in hearing someone who’s experienced and solved this.

Me here…it was excruciating. I went up a half size on my shoe, and this has appeared to fix my situation. I have an 88-mile climb up a mountain tomorrow, so that’ll be an indicator if I’ve fixed the problem. It usually doesn’t start bugging me until about mile 80-100

I should add that I once had a casual conversation with a podiatrist who suggested Morton’s neuroma, which is an inflamed nerve between the metatarsals. He said the discomfort felt in the big toe could be the manifestation of the proximal inflamed portion. I’ve never fully pursued this because the two podiatrists I talked to after that both wanted to sell me orthotics. I already have a recent pair that I use in running and cycling shoes. They are comfortable, but don’t affect any change in my symptoms.

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Grab a lacrosse ball and roll it under your arch and put weight on it. Another is to see how your calves are doing as tightness there could translate into the arch and then into the big toe. Take the same lacrosse ball and while sitting down on the floor with your legs/feet out in front of you put the ball under your calves and roll around. You might find that something there is causing the foot issues.,

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First, to the OP - any pain you’re having (particularly if it’s as awful as you make it sound) is best diagnosed by a doctor, and not an online forum. However, since we’re here…

My two cents - I have experienced a similar searing pain in my toes (between third and fourth toes, left foot). I went to the podiatrist, had an MRI, and it was indeed a Morton’s neuroma. They made me custom orthotics, and it resolved itself. Fortunately, it’s not aggravated by cycling/my cycling shoes.

Cycling shouldn’t hurt like that. Don’t push through injuries because you’re used to suffering on the bike!

I’m in the same situation, I find that if my shoes are loose on my feet it is worse. I either double sock or cinch my shoes down really tight. I wear size 13 so I have also move my cleats back on the shoes and that seems to have helped. Still not solved but much better. Would love to hear what the true issue is with this and how to fix.

Man. That’d make so much sense. It was far worse in my left toe. And I had that shoe really loose because I also had a wart on my little toe that was painful with tight shoes. Luckily I’ve had time to get that removed so can try tightening my shoes.

Where about is the pain in the big toe?

Is it in the main toe joint or elsewhere?

If it is in the joint, it could be mild gout. Quite common amongst some cyclists, runners etc. It can be handled if it is.

Mine is right in the center of the pad on the bottom of my big toes. Not near a joint at all.

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I feel like it starts in the pad of the toe as well.
But when I really notice it it’s gotten worse to where it’s radiating to the whole toe and it’s hard to isolate it.

I have been surprised by how much foot pain is from tight calves. The lacrosse ball and stretching really help.

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I just stumbled upon this post while searching for some sort of guidance on this topic.

I focus mainly on xc marathon, and ride gravel when the trails are wet. I have been battling foot (nerve) pain in the bottom of my foot for over a year after beginning structured training. After taking a month off the bike and symptoms not really going away I went to a family doctor. She had no explanation for my symptoms so she sent me to a physical therapist. The PT was fairly confused as well after ruling out Morton’s neuroma and (kind of) plantar fasciitis.

Symptoms: It starts as a warm/burning sensation right behind my smaller toes on my left foot. This usually begins about 20-50 miles in to a ride or an hour into a hard trainer ride. The burning will start radiating throughout my foot and intensifying slowly and eventually almost brings me to tears. (Mostly angry tears.) These symptoms are a broad description due to them being very inconsistent.

Things that help: rest, stretching the calf, massaging the bottom of my foot (by hand or lacrosse ball), icing/massaging calf

The only gains we ended up making so far are that I have an extremely tight left calf. My PT tried “dry needling” to relieve the knots on my calf. This gave me instant relief. I did Baxter on the trainer the same night as a test and it felt amazing. After that I started SSB1 LV and went almost 4 weeks with no issues. I continued to do all I could to make sure my calf didn’t tighten up again. (Foam rolling, stretching, trigger point therapy on calf and foot, ice, heat, wearing a plantar facilities brace to bed). At about the 4 week mark the same symptoms came back.

Now I am back to where I started, taking more time off the bike. I’m getting very frustrated because I desperately want to get strong before the season starts and I feel like all the gains I make end up going right down the drain. Does anyone have any new info or advice? I am going to try moving my cleats but I have low hope that it will help.

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Tight calves seem to be a contributing factor, when i roll them out it helps a little, but not the entire issue.
I try to be very methodical with it. a hard foam roller, or even a rolling pin to simulate the “trigger point” system you can order for like $50. Rolling on the top and each side 3 times with as much force as i can tollerate. one inch at a time, repeating the 9 rolls, every inch of the calf/soleus & high part of the achilles.

The other things i’ve started doing, besides also rolling a hard boll on the bottom of my foot like you mentioned. I take a nail file and pumice stone to any callosus that are developing on my foot. any protruding skin seems to act as the place the pain starts, as more pressure goes into that area, so making it level with the rest of my foot helps a little bit.

The thing that seems to be helping the most lately, is stretching my toes/ankles in flexion and extension. either bending my toes against the wall, or having my toes flexed against the floor, while kneeling on both knees, and sitting back onto my heels. then also laying my feet flat in extension, and sitting back on my heals again.

I dont usually find stretching helps, but with this type of pain it seems to be doing something.

I was amazed how much less flexible my ankles/toes are compared to 5 years ago, not really surprising since i haven’t done anything that’s required flexibility, but it makes sense that this pain could be caused somewhat by a loss of range of motion, and an increase of tension.

Wanted to give a little bit of an update.
After one of my harder endurance rides, the toe pain was so bad at one point i started feeling a little nauseous. Luckily it was the end of the workout. 4 hours @ .76 IF. for context.

This motivated me to try some new things.
Calf strength.
Dynamic toe/foot stretches.

It occured to me, that all the foam rolling and active release/message wasn’t doing a whole lot for the overall strength and effective range of motion of my toes. I know our toes dont move much on the bike, but i figured i’d give it a shot. I Figured the more effective they were at performing their toe stuff, the better they’d be able to handle being used for cycling for a few hours.

For calf strength, I used single legged calf raises. aiming for 20.
My PT always said for a lot of foot/knee/back problems, to find out if you can do 20 calf raises as one of the first steps in alleviating pain.
unfortunately i was able to do 20 each leg. but ive still been doing them every other day, working up to eventually doing 3 sets of 20, because my calves were sore/tender from the effort. and a little extra strength cant hurt.

For toe mobility. I sit on the floor: flex feet&toes. point feet & flex toes. point feet & toes. point feet & flex toes. Flex feet & flex toes (and repeat those positions, holding each one for about a second at a time, for 1-3 minutes at a time.)
And its not just passively running your feet through the range of motion they already have, but actively flexing and pointing with a little gusto so you feel it a little, should strengthen them through a wide® range of motion, and increase your foot/toe flexibility a little.

The results? the last two 3-4 hour endurance rides i did @ .65 and .7 IF were pain free, and the last sweet spot workout i did was pain free (2 hours to complete all the sweet spot intervals, then i added 30 minutes endurance).

So, the real test will be when i do another hard 4 hour ride, or 6+ any intensity ride.
But right now im hopeful.

I think doing the foot/toe mobility helped more than anything else i’ve tried.
If that turns out to be true, im going to be kicking myself since the answer was an exercise i used to do everyday as a kid, but just haven’t bothered doing for over a decade.

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Curious if you’ve had any improvements in this front over the last year. Found myself suffering a lot on my first long gravel ride of the year after never really having this problem before. Insoles are newish but i’ve ridden 180km days no problem before today.

I think I will try cutting a hole in my insole if tightening up my toe box more doesn’t solve the problem.

Funny you bring it up. Last year it hardly bothered me at all because I didn’t do many long rides. But this year, with no racing in the US, I’ve been doing lots of longer stuff and it has flared up again. Hurts like crazy on bumpy rides, and can take a day or two to feel better. Longer paved rides are doable but uncomfortable by the end, especially in warmer weather. It is probably related to swelling, and vibration exacerbates it.

The hols under the toe trick helps for sure but hasn’t solved it completely. I hope your issue resolved itself quickly!

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