I just finished riding British Columbia’s challenging cross country mountain bike race in Pemberton BC, and events like this are a reminder to me the beating feet take while cycling. It can commonly be thought that cycling does not stress the feet or legs because there is no impact such as in running and walking. Cycling though is very repetitive and requires large amounts of force being generated from the gluts and quads which is then transferred through the feet and into the pedals. Cycling shoes also stress the feet. Generally road and cross country bike shoes are very stiff and snug fitting, not a friendly environment for feet.
First let’s separate cycling mechanics from impact mechanics. When running and walking the foot strikes the ground at the heel, pronates into midstance to absorb shock and then resupinates into toe off to propel you forward. The feet are very active during these activities. Cycling on the other hand requires very little movement and activity from the feet. Power is generated from the large muscle groups of the quads and gluts, transferred through the feet and into the pedal. The stiffer the foot remains the more the forces are transferred into the pedal and the less they are absorbed by the foot itself. We do not want a lot of foot movements while pedaling because it decreases the efficiency of pedaling. The main point of contact for the feet during pedaling is in the forefoot under the metatarsal heads. At this point the shoe is connected to the pedal via a metal or plastic cleat.
Common conditions Canadian Certified Pedorthists see in cyclists include:
- low back pain
- anterior or lateral knee pain
- arch pain
- forefoot pain
- foot numbness
It is important that if you are feeling any repetitive pain while cycling, particularly knee, hip or back pain, that you get a bike fit specialist to check the fit of your bike. Once it has been determined that you and your bike fit each other, then it is time to look at your foot structure, mechanics and shoes. A Canadian Certified Pedorthist will examine your foot structure, look at your mechanics and determine how your feet can be contributing to the pain you are experiencing. At this point the Pedorthist will help you develop a treatment plan that can include stretching, over-the-counter insoles, custom foot orthotics, foot wedging or various supports for inside your shoes.
How do orthotics help in cycling shoes?
Orthotics that are designed for cycling are quite different than those designed for running or walking (for the reasons as stated above). Since the primary point of contact is the forefoot, the hindfoot of the orthotics will be very low profile. Materials used in cycling orthotics are generally very light and on the stiffer side, graphite is the most common material. The pain symptoms as well as the foot structure are going to determine the goals of the orthotics. Generally an orthotic for cycling shoes is going to realign the foot structure, reduce unwanted foot motions and unload high pressure areas. Orthotics that have been made for cycling shoes will not be appropriate for other athletic shoes and vice versa.
Cyclists that are not experiencing pain while riding can also benefit greatly from wearing custom orthotics. Think of the orthotic as a device that will create a custom environment inside the footwear. They will help maximize pedaling efficiency and performance as well as improve pedaling comfort. Depending on the foot shape and mechanics, appropriate support can be achieved with an over the counter insole or a custom made orthotic.
Most Canadian Certified Pedorthists have been trained and are experienced in cycling mechanics as well as manufacturing and fitting cycling orthotics. Click here http://www.cpedcs.ca/locate.htm to find your nearest Canadian Certified Pedorthist.
Submitted by: Graham Archer, C. Ped Tech (C), C. Ped (C) Surrey, BC