Saddle sores are the bane of every cyclist’s existence, capable of turning a leisurely ride into a painful ordeal. But fear not! With the right strategies in place, you can prevent and cure this uncomfortable affliction completely, and get back to enjoying the open road with a newfound sense of comfort and freedom.
From adjusting your saddle position to choosing the right bike fit, this guide will equip you with everything you need to know to keep cycling saddle sore problems at bay and to continue riding with confidence. So gear up, and let’s ride!
What is a Saddle Sore Cycling
Saddle sore in cycling is a common issue experienced by cyclists that refers to discomfort or pain in the area around the saddle or the genital region during or after cycling. However, this term can encompass a wide range of specific problems, including skin irritation, infections, bruising, and numbness.
Unfortunately, because of the sensitive nature of the affected body parts, people often suffer in silence and may not seek proper treatment for their saddle soreness. It’s essential to acknowledge that this is not a one-size-fits-all issue, and each person’s experience of saddle soreness may be different.
While this guide can be helpful, it’s crucial to stress the importance of seeking medical advice if you experience recurring or severe saddle soreness. By doing so, you can ensure that you receive the proper diagnosis and treatment to address your specific condition and get back to cycling without discomfort.
What Do Saddle Sore Problems Feel Like
The discomfort of a saddle sore can be compared to a persistent, throbbing ache or a sharp, stinging pain. Even when off the bike, the affected area can be tender and sensitive to the touch, making everyday activities such as sitting or walking uncomfortable.
For cyclists, saddle sores can be particularly troublesome as they can impede performance and cause discomfort during even the shortest of rides. Some riders may find themselves adjusting their position on the bike or avoiding certain types of terrain to avoid saddle sores, which can lead to a less enjoyable and less effective cycling experience.
Why Saddle Sores Develop: An In-Depth Exploration of the Root Causes
Saddle soreness is a complex issue, and there is no definitive cause. Rather, there are multiple factors involved, including the sensitive reproductive organs and the skin in the affected area.
Our skin is a remarkable organ that serves as a barrier between the internal body and the outside world, protecting us from bacteria, irritants, and pollutants. It also contains networks of vessels that transport blood and fluids, as well as glands that produce sweat and other bodily secretions.
When it comes to cycling, there are several ways in which the skin and underlying structures can become damaged, leading to acute or chronic saddle sores. Let’s have a look at some very common reasons for saddle soreness.
1. Bike Fit and Saddle Choice
When it comes to saddle sores, one of the main culprits is pressure from sitting on a saddle that is not suitable for your body. This can be exacerbated by poor bike fit, which can cause discomfort and pain during and after cycling.
Your sit bones and perineum are two areas that bear the most weight when riding and where you are likely to experience pain or soreness. It’s essential to choose a saddle that supports your sit bones and does not put pressure on your genital region, as this can lead to numbness, erectile dysfunction, or other serious problems.
Unfortunately, finding the right saddle can be more challenging for women due to differences in pelvic anatomy. However, there are now a variety of women-specific saddles available too that can help alleviate pressure and discomfort.
It’s also important to ensure that your bike is fitted correctly for your body, taking into account factors such as saddle height, handlebar position, and pedal alignment.
Making adjustments to your bike fit can help distribute your weight more evenly, reducing pressure on your sit bones and perineum and preventing saddle sores.
Overall, taking the time to choose the right saddle and ensure proper bike fit can go a long way towards saddle soreness treatment and making your cycling experience more comfortable and enjoyable.
2. Friction and Chafing
Did you know that cycling shorts are designed to be worn without underwear? Wearing underwear with cycling shorts can actually decrease their effectiveness in reducing friction and chafing.
The foam pad in cycling shorts called a chamois, is made from materials such as foam, gel, and elastomers to increase comfort during long rides. However, it’s important to ensure that your shorts fit properly and that the chamois are the right size, density, and shape for you to prevent any discomfort or saddle sores from occurring.
Keep in mind that friction and vibrations from the road or trail can cause damage to your skin, reducing its ability to function as a barrier to sweat and bacteria. So, always ensure that your skin is well lubricated with diaper rash cream or triple antibiotic ointment before hitting the road or trail to prevent any invisible trauma.
Folliculitis, a common skin condition, is inflammation of the hair follicle that can also be caused by bacterial or fungal infections. Even without removing hair, friction, and damage to the skin can encourage its development.
While some describe it as “usually painless,” those who have experienced saddle soreness caused by folliculitis may disagree. This condition can appear as red or white pimples and can cause discomfort and pain, particularly in the inner thigh area.
Proper hygiene and skin care, along with appropriate medical treatment if necessary, can help prevent and manage folliculitis-related saddle sores.
Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicle, which can be a relatively minor problem. However, if the hair follicle becomes infected with staphylococcus bacteria, the condition can progress to something much more serious.
The resulting infection is known as a furuncle or boil, which is a painful and unsightly collection of pus-filled pockets. In more severe cases, a group of boils that are connected beneath the skin is called a carbuncle. These infections can be quite painful and may require medical attention to treat effectively.
To prevent saddle sores and the associated risk of folliculitis and boils, it is important to maintain good hygiene practices, such as regularly washing cycling shorts and applying antibiotic cream to the affected area.
Additionally, taking breaks from cycling and using a properly fitted saddle can help reduce the risk of developing saddle sores.
Saddle sores caused by swelling can be a persistent problem for cyclists, especially if left untreated. Dr. Jane Sterling, a leading dermatologist, and expert in vulval health, warns that hitting potholes or other bumps in the road can lead to bruising and damage to the capillaries in the skin. This, in turn, can cause swelling in the affected area.
Dr. Sterling stresses that the lymphatic system can also be affected by such damage, leading to permanent swelling that may require medical attention. It is important for cyclists to seek medical advice if they experience persistent saddle sores, as these can have long-term implications for their health and well-being.
Remember, the key to preventing long-term damage from saddle sores caused by swelling is to take care of yourself and seek medical advice if you experience persistent symptoms. With the right care and attention, you can stay comfortable and healthy on your bike for years to come.
How to Prevent & Treat Saddle Sores at First Place
Saddle sores can be a painful and uncomfortable problem for cyclists. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take for saddle sores treatment. Some of the most beneficial ideas are listed down below for you.
1. Shorts & Chamois Pads
Choosing the right cycling shorts and chamois pads can make a huge distinction in your overall comfort and performance on the bike. However, finding the right fit and style can be a process of trial and error, depending on your body type, cycling style, and personal preferences.
To ensure you get the best possible fit, it’s vital to choose a reputable brand that supports a range of sizes and styles to suit different needs. Look for shorts with a chamois pad that is designed to match your anatomy and provide the right level of fit and cushioning for your riding style.
If you’re not satisfied with your shorts or chamois pad after trying them out, many companies offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try out different options without breaking the bank.
When cycling, the combination of friction, sweat, washing, and pressure can make it harder for your skin to perform its function as a barrier, so regular moisturizing is recommended. Choosing a moisturizer will depend on your individual needs and preferences, but products like Doublebase gel may be a good place to start.
Another option that British Cycling recommends is washing with a medical-grade moisturizer called Dermol 500. This product is anti-microbial and moisturizing, so it can help repair the damage to your skin’s protective barrier.
Unlike some soaps and shower gels that can strip your skin of its natural oils and grease, Dermol 500 is gentle and helps to maintain the skin’s moisture balance.
3. Gentle Heat
When dealing with a saddle sore, applying gentle heat to the affected area can help to promote healing and alleviate discomfort. A warm compress can increase blood flow to the area, which can speed up the healing process and reduce inflammation.
To make a warm compress, cyclists can wet a cloth with warm water, place it in a waterproof container, and apply it to the affected area. It’s important to make sure that the water is not too hot, as this can cause burns or damage to the skin.
A warm bath or shower can also provide gentle heat and help to soothe sore muscles or joints.
4. Cold Therapy
Cold therapy can be a helpful tool for managing pain and inflammation in sore muscles or joints. By applying a cold compress, such as a wrapped ice pack or a bag of frozen peas, to the affected area for 10-15 minutes at a time, cyclists can help reduce swelling and discomfort.
It’s important to wrap the cold compress in a cloth or towel to protect the skin from direct exposure to the ice. Additionally, it’s recommended to avoid leaving the cold compress on for too long to prevent any potential damage to the skin or tissues.
Cold therapy can be particularly effective after a long or intense ride, as it can help to soothe sore muscles and promote faster recovery. By incorporating this simple and affordable technique into their recovery routine, cyclists can help ensure that their bodies are ready for the next ride.
5. Systemic Medications
While prevention is always the best approach, there are over-the-counter medications that can help alleviate the discomfort and inflammation associated with saddle sores. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help reduce pain and swelling in the affected area.
In addition, cannabis has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that can also help to reduce symptoms of saddle sores. However, it’s important to note that some cannabis products may have psychoactive effects due to the presence of THC. For those who prefer to avoid these effects, there are options available that offer systemic relief without the headier effects.
It’s important to consult with a good healthcare professional before taking any new medications, as some may have potential side effects or interactions with other medications.
6. Keep Genital Area Dry
Maintaining proper hygiene is crucial to ensure that saddle sores don’t become a pain in the rear end. To keep the area free from unwanted irritation, it’s essential to keep it clean and dry at all times.
So, lather up with a gentle, fragrance-free soap and rinse away all the sweat and grime that might have accumulated down there. Once you’re done washing, be sure to pat the area dry with a clean towel or cloth.
Resist the temptation to pop, burst, or squeeze any pesky saddle sore cyst that may have popped up. Instead, let your body work its magic and focus on keeping the area clean and dry. Remember, a little bit of TLC can go a long way in preventing discomfort and keeping you in the saddle for longer.
7. Saddle Fit & Bike Fit
While the saddle itself is important, its position on the bike is equally critical. Even the best saddle in the world won’t work if it’s not in the right position. A good bike fit takes into account various factors, including saddle position, handlebar height, and pedal stroke.
Most riders will be comfortable with a flat saddle position, with the saddle rails set in a middling position fore/aft. However, competitive cycling has certain rules regarding the position of the saddle.
British Cycling research has shown that angling the saddle nose down slightly could help to reduce pressure at the front. These rules need to be taken into consideration, but it’s still essential to find the right position for your saddle.
If you’re experiencing discomfort or saddle sores, it’s worth investing in a professional bike fit. An expert will be able to analyze your position on the bike and make recommendations to improve your comfort and performance. So, don’t suffer through saddle sores – get your bike fit right and enjoy the ride!
8. Saddle Design
Over the years, saddle design has evolved significantly to improve comfort and reduce the risk of saddle sores. While no single difference in saddle design can magically solve your comfort issues, a combination of several design factors can lead you to your perfect saddle.
One saddle design that has proven effective is the cut-out channel running the length of the saddle. Research by saddle brand SMP has shown that this unique design can help with blood flow in both men and women during and after cycling.
Pressure on the pudendal nerve, which runs through the middle of the base of the penis and perineum, is a key issue for men that can lead to numbness and erectile dysfunction. A cut-out in the saddle can help prevent this problem.
For women, a saddle with a cut-out area can help reduce pressure on soft tissue, making it a popular choice for many female cyclists.
9. Saddle Width
Another essential factor to consider when selecting a saddle is the width of your sit bones. Each person has a different sit bone width, and manufacturers offer saddles to accommodate this variability.
Measuring your sit bone width at home is relatively easy and can be done using cardboard. Alternatively, a professional bike fitter can assist you in measuring your sit bone width and recommend suitable saddles based on your measurement.
Choosing a saddle that matches your sit bone width can help distribute your weight evenly across the saddle, reducing the risk of pressure points and saddle sores.
10. Stand Frequently
Standing frequently during a ride can help prevent discomfort and numbness in the crotch area and promote healthy circulation throughout the body. By making it a habit to stand for 15-20 seconds every few minutes, cyclists can break up prolonged periods of sitting and keep their bodies feeling strong and energized.
There are many natural opportunities to stand during a ride, such as short hills, rough pavement, or accelerating from stop signs. By taking advantage of these moments, cyclists can incorporate standing into their ride without interrupting their momentum.
In addition to the physical benefits, standing and stretching can also be a great way to take a mental break during a ride. When at the back of a paceline or group, taking a moment to stand and stretch can help clear the mind and refocus on the ride ahead.
11. Pelvic Health
Taking care of your pelvic health is crucial for any cyclist, as it can greatly impact your comfort and performance on the bike. If you experience pelvic pain or discomfort, especially while cycling, it’s important to take a coordinated approach to address the issue.
While a new saddle may help some people, it’s not always the solution. In fact, optimizing your pelvic health through a consultation with a healthcare professional such as a GP or physiotherapist may be the key to improving your comfort and reducing saddle sores.
Remember, taking care of your body should always be a priority, and seeking the right help can make all the difference in your cycling experience. So, don’t hesitate to consult a professional if you’re experiencing pelvic pain or discomfort. Your body will thank you for it.
12. Chamois Cream
Chamois cream can be a helpful addition to a cyclist’s routine, especially for those who are prone to saddle sores or discomfort during long rides. While some riders may be able to forgo it with the right equipment and fit, for others, it can make a noticeable difference in their comfort level.
One of the benefits of chamois cream is its anti-bacterial properties, which can help prevent the buildup of harmful germs and bacteria that can cause irritation and infection. Additionally, many creams contain soothing ingredients such as Aloe Vera or Shea Butter, which can help to calm irritated skin and reduce inflammation.
Another benefit of chamois cream is its viscosity, which can help reduce friction and chafing between the rider’s body and the chamois padding in their shorts. This can be particularly helpful during longer rides, where the repetitive motion of pedaling can exacerbate discomfort and irritation.
13. Pubic Hair
Pubic hair is a natural feature of human anatomy, and as Dr. Sterling suggests, it has evolutionary benefits, such as providing a barrier against friction and bacteria and helping to regulate body temperature and moisture. While some people may prefer to remove their pubic hair for cosmetic or hygiene reasons, there is no medical necessity to do so.
In fact, hair removal methods such as waxing, shaving, and depilatory creams can cause skin irritation, ingrown hairs, infections, and other complications. Trimming with scissors or clippers is a safer and less invasive option for managing pubic hair.
If you do decide to remove your pubic hair, it’s important to follow proper hygiene practices, such as using clean tools, avoiding sharing equipment with others, and keeping the skin clean and dry to reduce the risk of infections.
When it comes to cycling, the benefits of pubic hair for air circulation may be negligible, but it’s still a personal choice whether or not to remove it. Ultimately, the decision to embrace or manage your pubic hair should be based on your own preferences, comfort level, and medical considerations.
14. Do Stretching Before & After Riding
Cycling can be a fantastic form of exercise and a great way to explore the outdoors. However, it’s important to take care of your body and avoid discomfort, such as saddle sores. One way to do this is by incorporating stretching into your cycling routine.
Before hopping on your bike, take a few minutes to stretch your legs, hips, and lower back. This can help to warm up your muscles and increase blood flow to the groin area, further eliminating saddle sores risk to some level. You might try some simple stretches like lunges, hamstring stretches, and hip openers.
After your ride, take a few more minutes to stretch out any tight muscles. This can also help to prevent soreness and improve flexibility. Try some gentle yoga poses, such as downward dog, pigeon pose, and seated forward fold.
Incorporating stretching into your cycling routine can not only help to prevent saddle sores but can also improve your overall performance and reduce the risk of injury. So, don’t forget to take a few minutes to stretch before and after your next ride!
Saddle Sores — Prevention is Better than Cure
Preventing saddle sores is crucial for any cyclist, as it can not only cause discomfort and pain but can also lead to infections and time off the bike. By taking proactive measures, such as allowing proper recovery time between rides, getting enough rest and hydration, and maintaining a healthy diet, cyclists can reduce the likelihood of developing saddle sores.
It’s also important to pay attention to the skin and take steps to keep it healthy, such as wearing breathable loose fitting clothes and allowing for air circulation after long rides. By being mindful of these small but essential details, cyclists can keep their bodies in top form and enjoy their rides to the fullest.
Furthermore, it’s vital to break the silence surrounding saddle sores and other cycling-related health issues. By discussing these matters openly and without shame, both new and experienced cyclists can learn from each other and work together to promote healthy habits and safe cycling practices.
Prevention truly is better than a cure when it comes to saddle sores. By taking proactive steps and maintaining healthy habits, cyclists can stay comfortable, healthy, and on the road for many joyful rides to come.
Nutrition, Rest, and Saddle Sores
Dr. Tamsin Lewis, who treats athletes with hormonal and nutritional issues, believes that good nutrition and stress management can also help prevent saddle sores in addition to having the right saddle, shorts, and hygiene routine.
She recommends consuming enough zinc and vitamin C, which help with collagen formation and skin health, especially for sweaty cyclists who lose zinc through sweat. Hormonal imbalances, particularly low estrogen levels, can also affect healing and collagen formation.
Additionally, poor recovery due to inadequate sleep, stress, and diet can increase total body inflammation, which can worsen saddle sores. Consuming enough protein, around 1.7-2g per kilogram of body weight on training days, and incorporating plenty of vegetables into your diet can help reduce inflammation.
While the effects of high-sugar energy drinks on inflammation are still being studied, Dr Lewis suggests reducing reliance on them and making homemade versions to support energy.
Lastly, certain foods may cause inflammation in some people, so it’s important to learn which foods suit you and which don’t and eliminate those that cause gut symptoms, headaches, brain fog, or sluggishness.
Can Chamois Cream Make Saddle Sores Worse
Chamois cream is a product that has been used by cyclists for many years to help prevent chafing and discomfort while riding. Originally used to keep leather chamois pads soft and supple, modern chamois creams are now applied directly to the skin to reduce friction and improve comfort during rides.
While chamois cream can be effective for some cyclists, it is important to note that it may not be suitable for everyone. Some individuals may be sensitive to the ingredients in the cream, which could potentially make saddle sores worse.
It is always best to test a small amount of chamois cream on a patch of skin before using it on a larger area to avoid any adverse reactions.
It is also important to understand that chamois creams are primarily designed to reduce friction rather than promote skin repair. While they can help to prevent saddle sores by reducing friction and keeping the skin moisturized, they may not be effective for treating existing sores or promoting healing.
If you do develop saddle sores, it is important to take appropriate steps to promote healing and prevent further irritation. This may involve using topical creams or ointments specifically designed for the treatment of saddle sores, taking a break from cycling to allow the skin to heal, and practicing good hygiene to prevent infections.
Closing Thoughts — Saddle Sores
Saddle sores are a common and often painful condition that can occur in cyclists and other athletes who spend extended periods of time sitting on a bike seat or saddle. There are several proven strategies that can help prevent and cure saddle sores, including proper bike fit, wearing appropriate clothing, maintaining good hygiene, and using chamois cream.
Looking toward the future, it is likely that continued research and innovation in the areas of bike saddle design and materials, as well as advances in medical treatments and preventive measures, will lead to even more effective strategies for saddle sore treatment.
Additionally, education and awareness campaigns aimed at promoting good saddle hygiene and injury prevention could help reduce the incidence and severity of saddle sores among cyclists and other athletes.
Overall, with proper care and attention, saddle sores can be effectively managed, allowing athletes to continue pursuing their passions without undue discomfort or pain.
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Saddle Sores — Frequently Asked Questions
Can your period make saddle sores worse?
Yes, your period can make saddle sores worse. Cycling during your period can be uncomfortable due to the combination of pressure on the saddle and the friction caused by wearing a pad. As a result, you may experience an increase in saddle soreness or irritation during this time.
To minimize discomfort, it is recommended that you consider using alternatives to pads, such as tampons or menstrual cups, while cycling during your period. This is because cycling shorts should be worn next to the skin to prevent chafing or discomfort, and pads may interfere with the fit of the shorts and exacerbate any existing saddle sores.
Can saddle sores lead to more serious health issues?
While saddle sores are generally not serious, they can become infected if left untreated. In rare cases, a severe infection can lead to cellulitis or other complications. It’s important to keep an eye on your saddle sores and seek medical attention if they become infected or do not heal.
Can I still ride my bike if I have saddle sores?
It’s generally best to avoid riding your bike until your saddle sores have healed. Continuing to ride can cause further irritation and delay the healing process.
Can women develop saddle sores?
Yes, women can also develop saddle sores. However, they are less common in women due to differences in anatomy and riding style.
Can saddle sores be prevented entirely?
While it may not be possible to prevent saddle sores entirely, taking steps to reduce pressure, friction, and moisture can help to minimize your risk. By choosing the right equipment and taking breaks during long rides, you can enjoy a comfortable and pain-free cycling experience.