Is there anything better than a recovery ride or a slow joyride? No need to mash the gears or worry about your interval schedule. The day is all about enjoying the simple pleasure of riding. How better to spend a beautiful spring day than with a rolling stretch of pavement in front of you, your bicycle and a few hours to enjoy in the saddle? However, one of the few things that can spoil a day like this is a saddle sore. It's one of the unfortunate side effects of being a dedicated cyclist or triathlete. When you spend hours in the saddle every week, it comes with the territory. Your body just is not made for the more extreme side of the sport. Luckily, there are some proven methods to prevent and treat saddle sores, keeping them from ruining your precious time on the road.
WHAT ARE SADDLE SORES?
There is no true medical description and different people will have different descriptions of what a saddle sore is exactly. Basically, it's an area of the skin that is made sore by repeated contact with your bicycle seat. It could be a small bump, a larger, fluid-filled area or even an area of abraded skin that makes it painful to come in contact with the saddle. Smaller red areas or small bumps are often the result of hair follicles becoming infected by repeated long periods of time spend riding. Logically, the larger the affected area is the more painful it will be.
WHAT CAUSES THEM?
Saddle sores are caused by a combination of heat, pressure and friction created by long periods of time spent riding a bicycle. No matter how advanced in design your saddle is, you are going to be putting consistent pressure on your groin area. When you combine that with perspiration from the exertion of riding and the friction created by repeatedly turning the pedals, you will eventually damage the skin in the groin area.
5 TIPS TO PREVENT SADDLE SORES
The best way to handle saddle sores is to try to keep them from happening. It is not easy, especially if you're a serious cyclist logging hours in the saddle five or six days per week. But, there are some things you can do to try to keep from falling victim to them.
Ride on the Right Saddle
To eliminate chafing, a known contributor to saddle sores, finding a saddle that fits your body and riding style is important. It can take a bit of experimentation but the effort will be worth it. Obviously, different saddles are made with men and women in mind. Riding on a saddle made for the opposite sex is a recipe for disaster.
The correct width for your personal "sit bones" is the most important element in finding a seat that will reduce the likelihood of developing saddle soars. Most local bike shops have a special tool for making this measurement and will be happy to assist in finding a saddle that best matches your anatomy. The type of riding you do should also factor into your saddle choice. Sprinters and hardcore interval riders want a saddle that will relieve pressure at the front of the groin area while rollers and endurance riders need a bit more padding at the rear due to their more upright riding position. There are saddles available to fit any riding style.
Wear Well-Fitting Shorts
Serious cyclists know cycling-specific shorts with layered chamois are a must. They should be worn alone, with nothing under them (leave your underwear in the drawer). They should also fit snuggly with no shifting while riding. But not too snugly as you don't want them digging into your skin and increasing friction. As with most things, different shorts will appeal to different riders so shop around until you find the right brand for you. Your local bike shop might have some suggestions.
Wear Clean Shorts
Wearing clean cycling shorts is essential. Wearing a pair of shorts without washing them between rides is a good way to welcome bacteria to a place you don't want them. The best practice is to remove your shorts as quickly as you can after a ride, shower and dry off completely. It should go without saying, but never borrow shorts from another rider.
Don't Shave "Down There"
Cyclist are known for trying to reduce weight any way possible. Shaving legs, arms and even heads is almost a rite of passage. However, removing pubic hair can increase your chances of developing saddle sores. Your hair acts as a kind of buffer to ease the friction caused by riding and helps absorb sweat in the groin area naturally. By shaving your groin area, you will also increase the chances of developing a painful ingrown hair.
Make Sure Your Bike Fit is Correct
You can invest in top-of-the-line shorts and the most anatomically correct saddle on the market, but if your bike isn't fitted correctly, you'll have nothing but problems, not the least of which might be saddle sores. A saddle that's not adjusted properly or is positioned too high will cause you to pedal incorrectly. This will increase friction and likely cause sores. Your local bike shop will be happy to assist you with achieving a proper fit for your bicycle.
A Few Words About Chamois Cream
Since there are a lot of mixed feelings among cyclists about chamois cream, we have chosen to not include it on our list. However, some cyclists swear by it so we will give it a mention. Chamois creams are thick, creamy substances that can reduce chafing between your body and your shorts. They often contain anti-bacterial ingredients that help prevent infections. However, they are quite messy to both cyclist and shorts and many cyclists don't feel they're worth the trouble. If you are very prone to saddle sores, it might be worth investigating. Look at it as a kind of last resort. Take a hot shower after your ride to open up your hair follicles and remove any sweaty, grimy chamois cream you have on your legs.
5 TIPS TO TREAT SADDLE SORES
If you use our prevention suggestions, we're confident you will reduce your chances of dealing with saddle sores. That said, if you ride long enough, you will almost certainly get a saddle sore or two along the way, no matter how diligently you try to prevent them. When that happens, here are some common treatment methods to get you back in the saddle as quickly as possible.
Take a Break From Riding
It is hard for a serious cyclist to take more than one occasional rest day. But if you are battling a saddle sore, rest is likely the best answer. Continuing to ride will only aggravate the problem. Take two or three days off the bike, try to keep yourself in loose fitting clothing and give the area a break. It will heal quicker than you might think.
Apply an Antibacterial Medication and Ice
These creams and ointments are available at your local pharmacy or grocery store and are very inexpensive. Apply to the area as directed and you should be good to go in short order. In between treatments with the cream, applying ice can be a good way to reduce pain and swelling. Just be sure to dry the area completely when you're done icing to keep a fungal infection from developing.
Apply Tea Tree Oil and Petroleum Jelly
With a cotton ball, Apply tea tree oil to the area (avoid applying to abraded skin or mucous membrane) and allow to dry. Follow that with an application of petroleum jelly. Wash off after a few hours and repeat the process. Both of these items can be found at any pharmacy.
Wash the Area Regularly and Keep it Dry
Wash daily with a fragrance-free soap. Follow the washing by gently but thoroughly drying the area. Resist the urge to squeeze or "pop" your saddle sores as this will only lead to more problems. Your body will heal naturally in time.
If Problems Persist or Worsen, See Your Doctor
Saddle sores are a common and usually a minor problem. They have been treated successfully by many, many cyclists with nothing more than rest and over-the-counter creams and ointments. here are occasions when saddle sores are serious enough to where you should seek medical attention. If you are having difficulty sitting or walking, or the area is bleeding or changes color, see your general health practitioner.
Mostly, saddle sores are an unfortunate part of cycling. The sport puts your body into some situations it was not designed for. For the lucky, they are an occasional and minor nuisance. For others, they can cost time in the saddle.
Preventing saddle sores with a little preparation and by riding with the right equipment and proper technique is the most effective way of keeping this annoyance from becoming anything more. When they cause a problem, don't ignore them or try riding through the pain. Give them quick and proper attention so you can get back on the road comfortably.