Why Your Feet Hurt When Paddleboarding & What To Do About It

I’m pretty new to paddleboarding and the last time I went I noticed my feet were hurting. Not wanting to miss out on the experience of paddleboarding I decided to find out why my feet hurt and what I can do to ease the pain.

So why do my feet hurt when paddleboarding? Foot pain is pretty common for new paddleboarders and that is mainly due to poor blood flow and tension in the feet. Often times, people will try to “grip” the board with their toes causing their feet to tense up and restrict blood flow in that area.  This can cause not only pain, but also numbness or cramping.

Luckily there are a few simple things you can do on and off the board that can help ease the pain without causing you to fall in the water!

What’s Causing The Pain

Well here in Brighton we have a pebble beach, so if you have left your aqua shoes at home and have just had to walk barefooted on the pebbles while holding a paddleboard the odds are you will be in pain before you even get on the board. But that is steering off point.

Like I mentioned above (my above rant), the main reason for pain is tension in the feet – assuming that there are no injuries or underlying conditions already present. 

Foot pain is most common for new borders because:

  • They usually haven’t gained confidence in their balance yet
  • They try to “grip” the board with their feet
  • Tension and poor blood flow in their feet

I know that’s what I did when I was paddleboarding.

The Foot Grip Causes Pain

The desire to “grip” the board with your feet is a natural reaction, no one wants to fall in the water.  Part of the appeal of paddleboarding is that you can enjoy the water without being in it.  It might seem strange that our natural reaction is what’s causing our pain, but that is generally the problem.

That “gripping” of the feet causes the muscles in the foot to tense up and restrict blood flow to that part of the body, kind of like clenching a fist.  If you were to clench your fist for a long period of time it would cramp and cause pain, the same concept only with your feet. And, since you are standing up, you have the added weight of your body on top of the muscles you are tensing.

It may seem like your feet aren’t doing much while you stand there, but they are actually doing a lot of work to keep you balanced on a moving surface. As your paddleboard moves with the water, your feet will make slight adjustments to keep you upright.  And tensing your feet is not really helping, even if it seems like that is what you have to do to stay standing.

Okay, so trying to grip the board with your feet is a problem. So how do you combat the natural urge to tense up? Relax…seriously it’s almost that simple. 

How to Fix the Feet Pain While Paddleboarding

Trying to ease your foot pain on the board might seem a little risky since you are balancing on water, but here are a few things you can do to ease up the tension in your feet that have a minimal risk of causing you to fall in:

Relaxing and Wiggling Your Toes

This one is simple enough, curl in and then stretch out your toes or wiggle them any way you want. This simple action will help the muscles in your feet ease up and relax.  Try to trust your sense of balance without trying to grip the paddleboard.

Shift Your Weight

You’ll want to make sure you are standing in a neutral stance with your feet facing forward, not duck-footed or pigeon-toed. Then shift your weight from the balls of your feet to your heels and back, doing this will help you will gain a better sense of balance as well as help the muscles in your feet relax.

Move Around On Your Board

Moving around on the board can be difficult especially when you are already feeling unsteady.  This video below from Paddling.com does a great job of showing you how to safely move around on your board without falling off. Be careful not to unweight your feet unevenly and cause the paddleboard to rock.

Alternate Kneeling, Sitting, Standing

If you are comfortable enough with your ability to transition, try alternating between kneeling, sitting and standing.  Doing this is a great way to alleviate pain and tension in your feet.  It will take the pressure off and help you to further develop your balance.

What You Can Do Off The Board

When you are not on your paddleboard there are a few things you can do to make the next time more enjoyable and pain-free:

Stretching

Stretching can provide a lot of relief for already sore feet and help prepare your feet for paddleboarding.  The two stretches I found in my search are:

  • the ankle roll
  • heel to toe roll

I like these stretches because they are simple and powerful, you can even do them while watching your favourite show!

Massage

Who doesn’t love a good foot massage? Massaging your feet can definitely relieve the pain and there are a few ways you can massage your feet.  Two ways to massage your feet are:

  • Using your hands and pressure to relieve the muscles
  • Use a hard ball (like this lacrosse ball at Amazon) under your foot and move it back and forth while applying pressure.

Walking Barefoot

I found this solution a little surprising – not because it’s a crazy idea but because it’s so simple.  Walking barefoot can help strengthen the muscles in the feet leading to less injury and pain.  It can also help you gain better posture and balance which helps with paddleboarding. You’ll definitely want to make sure you are walking in clean, safe places.

Strengthening Your Core

Doing exercises that strengthen your core may seem unrelated to paddleboarding, but it actually has a lot to do with it.  Paddleboarding itself works your core, paddling while being upright and maintaining balance requires the use of core muscles.  As you strengthen your core it will relieve unnecessary pressure on other parts of your body. Yoga is a great way to build strength and learn to naturally relax. Paddle board yoga takes this to a whole new level.

Relaxation Tips

Relaxing is really important to relieving tension, especially when trying something new, or trying to perfect your technique.  There are things outside of physical exercises that can also help you to feel more relaxed, and therefore less tense.

Preparation

Preparing ahead of time to take care of things that might make your experience a little more stressful will definitely help you to feel more relaxed.

For example, if you are worried about safety, make sure you have a great life jacket (Amazon). If you are worried about sun exposure, make sure you are prepared with a reef safe sunscreen (Amazon). Making a game plan for those things that might worry you and make it hard for you to relax will make the experience more enjoyable.

Have Fun

My last tip is to have fun! It’s easy to lose sight of why you are doing something if you are too focused on the technique or the discomfort.  Don’t get so focused on perfecting your technique or worrying about falling in that you forget to enjoy the experience of paddleboarding out in nature.

Paddleboarding has quickly become one of my favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors.  I can’t wait to get back on the water now that I have found a few ways to relieve the less enjoyable foot pain it can sometimes come with.  I hope this post can help you have more fun too!


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Carlo Raffa

Carlo Raffa is a blogger, stand-up paddleboard enthusiast, water lover and local to Brighton city in the South of England. Paddle boarding is my escape and this is only the starting point. Being a larger guy at 260lbs I am finding it very good exercise as well, especially for building core muscles. This is something that believe it or not cycling 16 miles a day at 6 miles per hour doesn't seem to be doing. Paddle Boarding allows me to just grab my board and walk right through the busy bar filled beachfront between the two piers in Brighton and head straight out of shore. It's not long before the shouting and cheering of our buzzing beach fade into just the lapping waves and the people to just small dots of the Brighton shoreline.

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