The 5 Best Ways to Prevent Saddle Sores
Time to read 4 min
Time to read 4 min
Saddle sores can be an immediate buzzkill to any cyclists’ riding routine. Irritating, uncomfortable, raw, they turn your crotch area into a battle ground making it nearly impossible to sit on your saddle. And unfortunately, saddle sores are a much more prominent and long-term health issue among female cyclists than we generally talk about.
What are saddle sores?
So, what are saddle sores? They can impact your inner thighs, bum, genitals, and perineum. Basically anywhere that makes up the ‘saddle area’. And they present in different ways. At minimum, they can present as irritating chafing that leaves your skin raw. Or worse yet, for some riders they can even develop into full on boils due to skin bacteria that invades your abraded skin. For others, saddle sores are attributed to a numbness in the genital area, which is a separate cause for alarm. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, female cyclists who report feeling pubic pain or numbness while cycling are also more likely to experience female sexual dysfunction (FSD). In 2019, Paralympian trike cyclist Hannah Dines even wrote an op-ed in the Guardian about her experience having to undergo vulva surgery after years of riding and chronic inflammation.
Unfortunately, even the most seasoned rider can fall victim to saddle sores. In fact, particularly long rides seem to be the number one risk factor in getting them. But also something as simple as changing gear – whether it’s a seat post, or a new pair of cycling shorts, both of which can have devastating consequences if the fit is wrong – can make us fall victim.
Luckily, there are some tried and tested ways to help prevent saddle sores from happening in the first place. After all, prevention is key. Here’s how:
Tips to Prevent Saddle Sores
Move on the saddle Cited as the most common risk factor leading to saddle sores is the amount of time spent riding. Long-distance cyclists, whether commuting or riding for high intensity training, are those most likely to be impacted by saddle sores. If this is you, then you’ll want to make sure that you don’t get stuck in one seat position for too long. Stand frequently in order to take pressure off your crotch and increase circulation. Use natural opportunities like accelerating after a stop sign or hill climbs. You can also adjust where your seat bones are to relieve pressure off your crotch. That might mean moving further back on seated climbs, or forward when in aero position. It’s all about relieving pressure points.
Stay clean Yes, cleanliness matters and unwashed cycling shorts are linked to saddle sores. So, always start a ride with a clean pair. Then, after your ride make sure to strip your shorts off as soon as possible to prevent any bacteria from breeding down there. After you shower, opt for loose-fitting clothes to allow your skin to breathe.
Use chamois cream If you already know that you are prone to saddle sores, then take the time to apply lubrication to your saddle area before a ride. These creams are made to help reduce friction between your chamois, saddle, and body. They are also anti-bacterial, which helps keep things clean and prevent infection. Make sure when selecting your chamois cream that you choose one specifically made for women as these creams will have a lower pH level. We like this cream by One20Percent, a BC-based company owned by female cyclists.
Get a better seat The best saddle is really a question of personal fit. Every rider is different down there, and unfortunately in order to find the perfect saddle you’ll just have to go through some trial and error. Luckily, most bike shops have generous return policies. Test out a few and see what works for you. Finding the perfect saddle can take time and patience, but it is crucial. Likewise, you’ll want to make sure you have the best bike fit. Something as simple as a seat being too high can lead to chafing. It's worth having your position checked by an experienced bike fitter.
Invest in quality cycling shorts It goes without saying, but not all chamois is created equally. And if there's one piece of cycling apparel that's worth investing in, it would be a pair of quality, padded cycling shorts. As women, we need to use a chamois that is specifically engineered for our anatomy. Chamois companies like top-rated Elastic Interface, which we use in all our Samsara cycling shorts have invested tremendous resources in designing female-specific chamois. They also offer a wide collection of cycling pads, rated for different performance metrics. It can be daunting figuring out which chamois is right for you, but like a good saddle, you’ll want to do your research and experiment to find what works best for you. We always recommend doing your research when buying a pair of cycling shorts and understanding the quality and protection level of the padding inside.
Cycling After Saddle Sores
Prevention is the key when it comes to saddle sores, but if you do fall victim then there a few things you can do to help the healing. First, you’ll want to keep the area clean, perhaps even treating it with a hot bath and afterwards, applying an ointment like a topical gel. Lastly, you'll want to rest. While it might be hard to set your cycling goals aside for a little while, adding more pain to injury will not make you a better cyclist.
Whatever you do, do not accept saddle sores as a normal part of cycling. Make sure you stay on top of any symptoms and adjust accordingly. That’s the only way you’ll be able to keep riding for as long as you can.
Our cycling shorts are thoughtfully designed for female cyclists using high-quality fabrics and top-rated padding by Elastic Interface®. All our chamois' are made with bacteriostatic fabric that inhibits the growth of bacteria while simultaneously maintaining your skin’s bacterial balance, preventing skin irritations and sweat rashes.