Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.
What Are Saddle Sores?
Put simply, a saddle sore is a skin ailment around the area of the buttocks, perineum, and scrotum. Problems are mainly found around the ischial tuberosities (sit bones of your pelvis).
Cycling-Related Skin Problems Causing Saddle Sores
- Skin abrasion due to chafing from cycling
- Folliculitis and furuncles from cycling
- Skin ulceration from cycling
- Ishcial tuberosity (sit bone) pain cycling
- Subcutaneous nodules from cycling
1. Cycling-Related Chafing: Skin Abrasion
Skin abrasion while cycling is caused through chafing on the medial side of the thigh. This is from the resultant friction as the inner thigh rubs against the outside of the saddle. If you take a look at an old saddle it will likely have rub marks on the outside of the nose area.
Chafing from cycling leads to skin inflammation which causes redness of the skin, dry skin, and mild discomfort. Left untreated, chafing may lead to severe inflammation, maceration, ulceration or even a secondary infection. Therefore it is imperative to prevent chafing.
Treatment of irritated skin due to chafing from cycling is usually in the form of a low-dose steroid cream prescribed by a doctor.
Why Do Cyclists Use Vaseline?
Cyclists use Vaseline as it can create a barrier between fabric and skin to reduce the effects of friction or skin abrasion. Petroleum jelly creates a fantastic barrier. Personal experience is to apply a moderate layer to the skin between the legs and scrotal sacks (for men!) It's been used by cyclists for years and is a firm favourite for it's value for money when compared to the expense of many specific creams and butters.
Unfortunately vaseline does not have many of the anti-septic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of many specific chamois creams which are growing in popularity. It also tends to seep into the material of the shorts and therefore means they're best used only once before thorough washing.
2. Folliculitis and Furuncles
Folliculitis affects the base of your hair follicles due to inﬂammation or infection. Folliculitis can result from a lack of hygiene and suitable washing of the scrotal sacks post cycling. Usually causes mild discomfort and tends to clear up over time.
Furuncles are commonly known as boils and are more serious. If left untreated, they can develop further while becoming increasingly painful leading to an extended off-bike recovery period.
3. Skin Ulceration
Skin ulcertaion is the development of button-like lesion sections within your skin. Skin ulcertaion through cycling often results from inflammation of the skin of the perieum or scrotum and can also lead to an increased risk of infection. Even the smallest lesions can become infected.
Fluid develops underneath the skin and can lead to the appearance of buttons on your skin. This is often know as stasis dermatitis. The ulcer itself often does not cause pain but mild discomfort however can lead to itchy skin.
Untreated ulcers can become serious and require topical creams for treatment or in some sever cases operations if left untreated. Cyclists beware!
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4. Ischial Tuberosity Pain
Ischial tuberosity pain is common in people who do not cycle regularly. It involves tenderness and redness of the skin overlying the ischial tuberosity of the pelvis where the cyclist sits on the saddle.
Prevention of ischial tuberosity pain is through wearing comfortable padded cycling shorts and also choosing the right saddle design which suits the particular rider. ischial tuberosity pain often subsides over time as the body becomes used to the pressures and the skin toughens.
5. Subcutaneous Nodules
Subcutaneous nodules from cycling are primarily a condition experienced by Elite and Professional cyclists. Subcutaneous nodules from cycling are pseudocysts which develop posterior to the athletes scrotum and are sometimes referred to as a 'third testis'. They develop due to microtrauma to the perineum due to saddle pressure.
Treatment of subcutaneous nodules from cycling may require surgery if they become a handicap.
How to Prevent Saddle Sores and Cycling-Related Skin Problems
- Buy some Lycra cycling shorts. Cotton shorts can hold sweat which leads to extra chafing around the groin area. Proper cycling shorts fit correctly in all the right areas. They also contain an internal 'chamois' or pad for extra comfort and to avoid pressure sores.
- Feel too self conscious in Lycra? Get some baggy cycling shorts which contain an internal cycling short with padding while preserving your modesty.
- Lower the friction that causes chafing by applying a lubricating barrier cream like a specific chamois cream or alternately use Vaseline/ petroleum jelly. OA Performance make a fantastic anti-chafe chamois cream for cycling (above).
- Find the right saddle for your body. Many cycling shops now offer test saddles to try out for a period to ensure that it's right for you. Many saddles are now available which have a central cut out which removes perineal pressure.
- Keep yourself clean and feel from bacteria. Clean well after every ride to ensure bacteria is killed off and not allowed to breed and lead to infections.
- If your padded cycling shorts don't feel right for you, change your shorts, as not all cycling chamois are created equal. If money is no object Assos cycling shorts are the Rolls Royce of cycling shorts for comfort but the main thing is getting a comfortable pair that fit you well.
Hopefully this will help you to be more comfortable and saddle sore free cycling in future.
Happy Riding- CyclingFitness
Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on September 07, 2013:
Thanks steveph- glad these helped you
Steve Phillip on September 04, 2013:
Useful tips, thanks
dobo700 from Australia on April 16, 2013:
Thanks for the tips. I hope I never get saddle sores
Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on February 12, 2013:
Thanks for your comment Jen. I beleive the need for specific cycling shorts whether Lycra or looser mtb style was covered within the article under the how to prevent section. Thanks for your comment. CF
jenhardy on February 12, 2013:
You need to have trustworthy cycling shorts too.