How to Protect Your Perineal Area From the Bike Seat
Pain, numbness and tingling in the perineal area is a common cycling complaint. Perineal discomfort is usually caused by nerve compression, according to "American Family Physician," and can cause sexual dysfunction, including impotence in males. Make adjustments to your bike and biking habits to protect your perineal area from injuries.
Saddle and Handlebar Position
You might encounter perineal pain, chafing or numbness due to the positioning of your bike seat and handlebars. Handlebars that are too low for your height and the length of your arms can cause you to rotate your pelvis too much. "American Family Physician" recommends raising your handlebars so they are between 1 and 4 inches below the top edge of your bike seat. Check if you have the right height by standing next to your bike and placing your elbow on the front end of the seat. Your fingertips will reach the handlebars if the position is right. The right height for your bike seat is high enough that your extended knee flexes no more than 30 degrees when the pedal is at its lowest position.
Each person's body differs slightly so a single bike seat won't provide the right fit for every person. When riding a bike, your weight balances on your sit bones -- the bony area at the bottom of your pelvis. A saddle that does not match your body shape supports your weight with the soft tissues of the perineum instead of your sit bones.
Saddles designed for men feature a vertical split between the left and right sides of the seat or a middle cutout to reduce the stress on your perineum and to prevent nerve compression and numbness in the genital region. Many women will benefit from a wider seat to accommodate the pelvis, which tends to be wider in females than in males. Try bike seats of different lengths and widths to make sure you are balancing on your sit bones comfortably.
Even with a correctly positioned seat and handlebars, the delicate skin of the perineal area may become tender and irritated during a bike ride. Protect yourself from discomfort with a pair of cycling shorts. Cycling shorts are similar to other form-fitting sportswear made with moisture-wicking materials, but have added padding in the groin and rump areas.
According to the "American Family Physician," bicycle-related overuse injuries can affect the perineum and groin in the form of skin irritation, the development of open sores, vulvar trauma, impotence and neuropathy. Overuse can stem in part from riding in low gear while pedaling quickly to achieve a high cadence. Cadence refers to the revolutions per minute made with the pedals. Switching to a higher gear and slowing down your pedaling might help avoid overuse injuries in some cases. You can also avoid pain and discomfort by increasing your cycling mileage gradually, no more than 10 percent each week.
- Massage Therapy Journal: Cycling and Your Health
- BicycleSeats.org: Bicycle Seats Can Help Prevent Pain
- American Family Physician: Bicycle-Related Injuries
- Bicycling: Fine-Tune the Fit
- Sports Medicine: Common Cycling Injuries. Management and Prevention.
- MayoClinic.com: Overuse Injury: How to Prevent Training Injuries
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images