Treating Chronic Foot Problems Commonly Suffered By Long-Distance Cyclists
For many people, long-distance cycling is a rewarding and infinitely challenging hobby, testing the limits of your mental and physical endurance. Sadly, driving your body so hard inevitably leads to the occasional injuries, aches and pains all distance riders endure, and the feet are likely to be the first parts of your body to suffer. Since the feet are under so much strain for prolonged periods as they pedal, cyclists can often suffer from debilitating and painful foot disorders. However, they can be prevented with some simple precautions, and various treatments exist for those unfortunate enough to develop these conditions. Two of these conditions are generally considered to be among the most debilitating:
Sesamoids are tiny bones that develop within the fibrous tissues of various joints throughout the body. The sesamoids of your feet are located within a tendon just behind your big toe, where they act as fulcrums to relieve pressure on the toes and balls of the feet. Needless to say, cycling places severe, rhythmic strain on these bones even on a casual ride, so long distance riders can end up causing severe damage to these bones.
Sesamoiditis is caused by damage to the sesamoids or the tendons that surround them and generally results in a sharp, throbbing pain in the ball of the affected foot, especially when pressure is placed on it while walking or riding. You may also notice redness and swelling, and in rare cases, you may suffer from localised numbness in the toes.
Treating sesamoiditis generally involves a trip to a podiatrist, who will supply anti-inflammatory medication, painkillers, and localised steroid injections into the affected area(s) to promote healing. You may also be fitted with an orthotic brace to help keep pressure off the affected bones during a ride. However, prevention is always better than a cure, and many cases of sesamoiditis are caused by improper equipment. A pair of properly fitting cycling shoes (ideally made to measure), combined with orthoses suited to your foot shape, can go a long way towards stopping sesamoiditis before it starts.
The plantar fascia is a tough, thick band of connective tissue that runs for much of the length of your foot and creates a strong connection between the heel bone and the metatarsal bones. This connective tissue is a vital part of the mechanisms that allow the foot to apply downward pressure, so naturally, keeping it healthy is a priority for any cyclist.
Plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia becomes inflamed and painful and is usually accompanied by a sharp stabbing pain in the arch of the foot brought on by applying pressure. This pain is often at its worst when you wake up and subsides throughout the day. This inflammation is generally caused by excessive pressure on the arches and heels of the feet and is more likely to be suffered by cyclists with high or sunken arches. It may be accompanied by micro-tears in the tissue of the fascia, so it's important to take pressure off the affected foot as soon as you can before the tears worsen.
The most important part of treating plantar fasciitis is giving your feet a rest, so you may have to resolve yourself to the prospect of not being able to ride for weeks or even months while you recover. The plantar fascia heals slowly but steadily and will heal more quickly if pressure on it is minimised. In addition to resting the feet, your podiatrist will generally supply you with anti-inflammatory and analgesic medication and may also recommend heat or ice packs. Some podiatrists recommend limited physical therapy, mainly focused on strengthening the calf muscles to take pressure off the fascia.
If you find yourself prone to plantar fasciitis, you should also carefully examine your riding technique and equipment - proper pedalling technique channels all the power of the legs through the balls of the feet, and applying pressure improperly using the arches or heels of the feet is a common cause of fasciitis among distance riders. You should also check that your riding shoes are properly shaped and adjusted to allow you the correct positioning for pedalling.
For more information about these conditions and how to prevent or treat them, contact a local podiatrist.