Saturday, April 30, 2011

Orthotics for cycling

With a bit of extra time on my hands at the moment I have decided to do a few little podiatry-related blogs which people might (or maybe not) find interesting.  Kicking it off is orthotics for cycling.

Ever get sore feet while riding? Toes or feet go to sleep? How about feeling like you have been burning piece of coal underneath the ball of your foot? Maybe you have knee or hip pain? Or maybe you just feel a bit wonky or crooked on the bike?

Many cyclists will have experienced at least one of the things mentioned above, but not a lot of people know what they can do about it or where to find help.  Not everyone knows that a sports podiatrist can help to solve these problems with a pair of orthotics to go into your cycling shoes.
Orthotics are also known as insoles and are inserts which are placed in the bottom of a shoe to provide extra support and to address any biomechanical abnormalities of the foot or lower limb.  They can be prefabricated (“off the shelf”) or custom made. 
They can either be rigid or soft; made from a variety of materials such as polyethylene, carbon fibre, EVA and plastazote.  They can have modifications added to the rearfoot (back of the orthotic) or the forefoot (front of the orthotic) depending on the issue which they are addressing.

How can orthotics help me on the bike?

Orthotics help to redistribute pressures within the foot, they correct biomechanical abnormalities of the foot and lower limb, and also provide additional cushioning and support to the foot.  They can be used to reduce pain or to improve alignment in the foot and lower limb.

I have orthotics in my running shoes – should I be wearing them in my cycling shoes?

People need orthotics for a variety of reasons and they can be temporary or permanent.  A lot of people mostly associate orthotics with running, however the orthotics used for running and for cycling are quite different as there are different forces placed on the foot with these two activities.  There is a lack of impact in cycling which can neutralize biomechanical abnormalities seen in weight-bearing (ie. running).  Just because a person uses orthotics for running doesn’t necessarily mean that they need them for cycling, and vice-versa.
The most common complaints requiring orthotic intervention for cycling include:
-       -  Numbness/tingling in foot
-        - Arch or heel pain
-        - Knee pain
-        - Leg length discrepancy
-        - Pain/burning under the ball of the foot
-        - Achilles tendon, shin or calf pain
-        - Hip pain
-        - Iliotibial Band pain

If you do not experience any pain or discomfort while cycling then you may not need orthotics, however sometimes by adding in an orthotic which can help to redistribute pressures on certain parts of the foot, people realize that they are far more comfortable with one.  Sometimes you don’t realize that you have been uncomfortable until you try something new. 
Cycling is not supposed to be uncomfortable (it’s supposed to be painful when you are riding hard…) so if you are experiencing any type of pain when sitting on your bike and going for an easy ride then something is wrong. 

So what is the difference between cycling orthotics and other kinds of orthotics?

Cycling shoes are very different to running shoes and therefore the orthotics are very different as well.  Cycling orthotics need to be narrower and have a lower profile to be able to sit comfortably in the shoe and accommodate a foot as well (most important!).  Running orthotics tend to focus more on the rearfoot as this is often the first point of contact, as opposed to cycling orthotics which focus more on the forefoot as this is where the foot contacts the pedal.

Anything else I need to know about cycling orthotics?

Because of the repetitive nature of cycling an incorrect biomechanical pattern will more than likely result in an injury.  It has been estimated that a competitive cyclist performs more than 8 million hip and knee flexions in a year1 – even for a recreational cyclist this number is in the region of 2-4 million.  Therefore it is important to address any foot or lower leg abnormalities before they cause pain or muscle imbalances.
Shoe and pedal combinations, as well as cleat placement, are also factors which can either help or hinder the biomechanics of the lower limb and should always be taken into consideration when assessing for orthotics.
Last and certainly not least, a proper bike fit in terms of frame size, saddle and bar height and saddle position, in conjunction with pedals, shoes and orthotics, are imperative for maximising power transfer and creating a comfortable ride.

 1Schep, et al (1999), Flow limitations in the iliac arteries in endurance athletes. Int J Sports Med.

At least my feet were happy


  1. Jo, What do you make of the whole bare foot / minimal shoe running thing? Just a trend or is there something in it? I’ve been dabbling but remain skeptical. Would be interested in your thoughts.

  2. Hey, sorry just saw this now. I'm a bit undecided about it all. I think for some people in small doses it would be ok and maybe even helpful but could be very, very bad for the wrong person. I wouldn't do it because my feet are so floppy but someone with more of a neutral foot type may be ok...