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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
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    Virginia's Blue Ridge
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    Question Clenching toes on one foot...Symptom of ????

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    Hoping I can get some ideas and help with a little problem/mystery. I've been road riding now for about four years, averaging 1500 to 2000 miles annually, on rides ranging from 15 to 50 miles. I wear Sidi MTB shoes (I don't like the slick bottoms of road shoes) and have the SPD cleat system (which I'm very happy with). For what it's worth, I'm 5' 3", 115 lbs.

    I noticed a few rides ago that I am unconsciously "clenching" the toes on my right foot as I ride. Never the left, only the right. I'm not sure when I started doing this, but it's been very noticeable for the last three weeks or so.

    I started really paying attention this past week to how I'm pedaling to see if I could figure out why I'm doing it.

    Here's what I noticed:

    1) Toe boxes on both shoes have plenty of room, no pinching, no discomfort. So I don't think I'm clenching on the right because of any tightness in the shoe. If anything, the opposite.

    2) The shoes are four years old. (And so have surely stretched a bit.) Cinching the front strap tighter over the toe box doesn't stop the impulse to clench.

    3) I'm not having any problem clipping in or out.

    4) My left leg *seems* to be working a little harder than the right.

    5) On the upstroke, I can feel a slight "looseness" on the right that I don't on the left---my right foot seems to lift very slightly off the pedal, unlike my left, which stays solidly connected to the pedal throughout the 360 cycle. It feels as if some aspect of the foot/shoe/cleat/pedal combo is not as solidly connected as it should be. I *think* that this is why I'm clenching----my right foot is tensing up to try to make up for something, trying to keep my foot more firmly attached to the pedal throughout the full push and pull.

    I did a little reading here (of course!) and among the few ideas or suggestions I could find are:

    1) A solution could be to change insoles? Maybe change the Sidi insole to something with more stiffness to encourage my foot to stay flat.

    2) The problem could be a leg length difference? Maybe my right leg is slightly shorter than the left and so the left is doing more of the work? If so, should I shim the cleat? Or?

    3) Another possibility: Perhaps the connection between the cleat and the pedal has loosened a bit from simple wear-and-tear. (The set is about two years old.) Is that why I'm feeling my foot "lift" a little bit off the pedal during the upstroke? If so, is it time to change the cleats? Change pedals? Both? Or is there some kind of simple adjustment? (I have Shimano SPD SM56 cleats.) And is it possible to make the connection more solid between the cleat and the pedal without also making it harder to unclip?

    4) Could it be a matter of cleat position? Does the clenching perhaps mean that I'm trying unconsciously to move my right foot to a "better" (more efficient) position on the pedal? (Left foot is fine.)

    Clenching my foot seems to waste power that could otherwise be going into more efficient pedaling. And I need every bit of power I can get!

    Thoughts? As always, thanks!!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Between the Blue Ridge and the Chesapeake Bay
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    5,217
    Is there something in your life that you are stressed out about? Something you need to deal with but haven't yet? Maybe that stress is manifesting in clenching your foot. I used to grind my teeth at night--same type of thing. Went away when I faced and managed the thing(s) that were causing me so much stress. It had nothing to do with my teeth; this might have nothing to do with your foot.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Virginia's Blue Ridge
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    499
    Ha, ha, I hadn't thought about that possibility! I AM definitely a bit stressed at the moment---I have a full plate of work that is keeping me hopping. But I do yoga regularly and have a really upbeat outlook on life, so I don't *think* the clenching is emotional tension manifesting itself in my pedal stroke.

    My sense is that there is a mechanical reason I'm doing it---that my right foot is working harder than it should, particularly to lift the pedal on the upstroke. I noticed yesterday on my ride that even when I focus really hard on keeping the right foot as flat as the left, there still seems to be a bit of looseness somewhere in the foot/shoe/cleat/pedal connection.

    Thanks, Tulip! I'll keep your idea in mind when I'm riding this week.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    2,706
    I tend to clench my toes when my shoe isn't tight enough to keep my foot from sliding forward. Usually, tightening the instep/heel strap is enough to fix the problem. For me, tightening the toe strap just makes my toes numb.

    Good luck figuring this out!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Posts
    5,383
    Are your feet exactly the same length?

    Are your cleats set in exactly the same place fore and aft?

    My right foot is very slightly shorter then the left. And my cleat on the right is just a little closer to the heal. (A little aft of the left setting). In fact, I got new shoes this year, and while trying to work it out, my shorter, right foot, often felt like it was pulling up on a slightly too loose shoe.

    I just checked, and the difference is about 5 mm between the two cleats. And the difference in foot length is also 5 mm!
    Last edited by Muirenn; 05-31-2011 at 07:53 AM.
    So long as the wheels are still turning, life is good.

    Battswebb

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Virginia's Blue Ridge
    Posts
    499
    Thanks, Becky and Sheila....Hmmm, I hadn't thought about whether my feet might vary in length! What you describe, Sheila, is similar to what's happening to me when I pedal. I'll add your suggestion to my list of possible solutions!

    I'll also compare how well my heels are staying put in the shoes when pedaling---maybe I need a snugger fit in the heel on the right side. I could be slipping forward a little, as Becky suggests.

    Thanks! Keep those ideas and suggestions comin'!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    Indianapolis, Indiana
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    9,647
    I wonder, since you just noted this problem, if there could be a problem developing with the cleat on that shoe? Is it perhaps a little more worn or getting a little loose? I don't know how common an issue this is but the sudden onset makes me wonder. I also saw some poor guy yesterday who had to walk his bike some distance because HIS cleat broke - not only was he walking his bike but had to do it in his socks





    2011 Custom Gunnar

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Posts
    5,383
    Quote Originally Posted by KathiCville View Post

    I'll also compare how well my heels are staying put in the shoes when pedaling---maybe I need a snugger fit in the heel on the right side. I could be slipping forward a little, as Becky suggests.
    This was the next thing I was going to do for my shoes. The heals on both are a tiny bit loose. I think--correct me if I'm wrong someone--to make the heal more snug, a thin pad placed just under the ball of the foot is used.

    Does that sound right? Seems like some guy in a shoe store tried to do that once to a pair of shoes I considered buying. (I didn't get them).

    Not sure if it's best to find something from Dr. Scholls, or look for a special bicycle shoe shim. I know people have talked about this, but not sure how it works.

    Anyone?
    So long as the wheels are still turning, life is good.

    Battswebb

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Washington, DC
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    1,585
    Is your right leg your dominant leg? Do you unclip your right foot first when you stop? And, when you say your right foot lifts, do you mean your foot and shoe (from the pedal) or your foot inside the shoe? It could be as simple as tightening the pedal a little bit -- might have become a bit loose, or perhaps the cleat is worn out (or both).

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Virginia's Blue Ridge
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    Catrin and PLL....One of factors I'm wondering about is whether the cleat could be at least part of the problem.

    My right leg is my dominant leg, and the one that I unclip first/most. In simply looking at the two cleats I can't see any difference in terms of wear, but maybe it wouldn't be particularly noticeable to a novice. I read a bit about SPD cleat wear last night and one of the main symptoms of wear is having a harder than usual time clipping in or out---that hasn't been a problem so I'm not sure whether the cleat itself is an issue. I'm pretty new to cleats so don't have much experience to help me judge. Swapping out old cleats for new is relatively easy, of course, so that's on my list of possible remedies.

    On yesterday's ride I intentionally snugged up the front strap of my right shoe, over the toes, just to see if that would make a difference. In doing so, I *thought* I noticed a bit of looseness between the shoe and the pedal. (Versus the foot lifting slightly in the shoe.) I'll ride again this week when it cools down a bit and see if I can detect exactly where the slight looseness is located: foot in shoe, or between shoe and pedal...or possibly both.

    My shoes (Rampas, I think) don't have a heel strap so I'd probably have to do something about the insole to give me a snugger fit at the back if I'm either sliding forward or lifting my heel up. I searched here on TE and saw a number of posts about Specialized's various insoles, as well as the Louis Garneau "customizable" insoles that can be heated up, then cooled while wearing, to get a good fit.

    Thanks!

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Dallas, TX
    Posts
    41
    I have been experiencing something very similar for about 2 years now. For me, I clinch my left foot. My right leg seems to be doing a lot of the work, and I also feel a looseness on the left on the upstroke. I have worked with the bike shop to dial in my fit. I have also had shims/wedges put under my right cleat to address a leg length discrepancy. I noticed I started clinching my left toes on a MS 150 bike ride after I pulled my Achilles. It seemed to alleviate the pain enough for me to get through the ride. But it has been 2 years, the Achilles has healed, but I am still doing it from time to time. I think the reason why I am still doing it is that my left leg is far weaker than my right, so there is a pretty severe muscle imbalance. Contributing to the problem are some trigger points in my left calf, which prevents the calf muscles from firing properly. I think these two things combined are putting a lot of strain on my Achilles, and I am unconsciously clinching my toes because it seems to feel better when I do that. I have been working with a PT to address the muscle imbalances I have due to scoliosis, getting regular massages to work on the trigger points, and doing a lot of calf stretches. I don't know if this is what is causing you to clinch your toes, but I thought I would weigh in since I have been having the same problem.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Washington, DC
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    Cleat wear -- perhaps swapping the left and the right would rule that out (I know I wear out my left cleat so much faster than the right one -- as the result of a heel injury, I unclip with the left even though my dominant leg is the right one)

    Insoles: I am using eSoles in my Sidi shoes -- you have a choice of three arches and metatarsal support. I used to have a Specialized insole before. I like both products.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Posts
    5,383
    Quote Originally Posted by pll View Post
    Insoles: I am using eSoles in my Sidi shoes -- you have a choice of three arches and metatarsal support. I used to have a Specialized insole before. I like both products.
    What exactly do these change when you use them? Can be used to correct any areas where the shoe is a little loose? My shoes aren't too big, just not custom

    70 seems high, but possibly worth it.
    Last edited by Muirenn; 05-31-2011 at 10:00 AM.
    So long as the wheels are still turning, life is good.

    Battswebb

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Washington, DC
    Posts
    1,585
    I tend to pronate (as I put my weight into my foot, it rolls inward) and used to get numb toes on the bike. Insoles make things a lot more comfortable for me. Over the counter insoles tend to be more 'significant' than the insoles that ship with pretty much any shoe (which are very thin). While not designed to make the shoes tighter, in practice they make it slightly tighter.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Virginia's Blue Ridge
    Posts
    499

    Update

    Hi...I thought I'd give a quick update on what I've done about my "toe clenching" problem in case it's of use to anyone else. In brief, I took the bike and shoes in for a good (and probably overdue) fitting last night. :-)

    Turned out that the main problems where the foot was concerned were:

    1) cleats set too far forward, so my foot was trying to "grab" the pedal. Hence the clenching motion.

    2) a leg length discrepancy--right leg slightly shorter (which I suspected was the case)

    3) seat set a tad too high, causing me to rock my hips to "reach" the pedal, especially on the (shorter) right side.

    So, among other changes, we put the cleats farther back (wow, I could feel the difference on the stand in the shop!); shimmed the right one; and lowered the seat slightly. He also moved the SPD clip-in gizmo on the pedal (ack, don't know the term) a little closer to the frame to align my knees better with the pedal.

    While we were at it, we made a couple of upper body related changes too, including shortening the stem slightly, and installing narrower handlebars.

    Can't wait to get out on the road tonight and monitor the differences!

    Thanks for everybody's suggestions! I hope I'm "good to go" now........
    Last edited by KathiCville; 06-16-2011 at 05:51 AM.

 

 

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