"Saddle sores are irritation of the skin at the buttocks, groin, or thighs from sitting on a bicycle seat," says Jerome G. Enad, MD board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and weekend road bicyclist. The friction of cycling, experience level, and incorrect equipment size can all contribute to the occurrence. And while these pesky sores can feel a little embarrassing, they can happen to anyone, Dr. Enad explains.
What causes saddle sores
Three factors contribute to saddle sores: friction, moisture, and pressure, according to Dr. Enad. The friction of thighs rubbing together, clothing, or the bicycle seat can irritate the skin and cause a sore to occur. Moisture, like sweat, can contribute to increased friction and cause the natural bacteria in your groin area to come in contact with the sores. Bacteria often increases inflammation, redness, pain, and a longer healing time. Last, but not least, is that the pressure of your body on the seat can cause saddle sores if you aren't using the correct texture and size of equipment for your body.
Having a bike seat that is too small or too firm is one of the biggest predictors of saddle sores. This is especially true if you're riding the bike for the first time or don't bike regularly. A common misconception about bike seats is that it's normal for them to be painful. "So many new cyclists jump on their bikes, women or people with wider thighs in particular, in un-padded bottoms thinking they have to suffer through the discomfort of adjusting to the bike seat," says Stephanie Petersen, cycling expert and COO of Samsara cycling.
How to treat and prevent saddle sores
"If you suspect that you have saddle sores, you should follow the typical injury protocol of stopping or decreasing the amount of activity that caused it (in this case, sitting on a bicycle) for a while will help healing," Dr. Enad says. He recommends that you clean the area with gentle, unscented soap and dry it thoroughly. "A light application of hydrocortisone or antibacterial cream like Neosporin for a few days might help mild or moderate cases (not severe)," says Dr. Enad. He adds that serious cases like abscesses will need medical or surgical attention, so contact your doctor if you're concerned about the state of your saddle sores.
Make sure you get a proper bike fit for seat type, seat height, and seat position, says Dr. Enad. The best way to find a good seat is to test out your options and make sure that your seat size supports all of your rear. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to suffer pain to "break in the bike," and this thinking can lead to further injury. Dr. Enad also suggests that you take breaks during your rides, work up to longer distances, and stand frequently throughout the ride.
To prevent saddle sores in the future, consider reducing the occurrence of the three causes of the injury. Wear pants or shorts that are comfortable, stretchy, and allow you to move without friction. Peterson suggests investing in padded shorts, like Chamois shorts. Bare skin that rubs together is also a huge contributor to friction, so a good rule is to make sure that you are clothed anywhere on your thigh area that touches.
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