Saddle Sores – Prevention and Treatment

Saddle Sore from Cycling

Understanding and Treating Saddle Sores from Cycling

Cyclists, from the professional racer to the weekend enthusiast, are all too familiar with the discomfort of saddle sores from cycling. These pesky and painful skin irritations can significantly impact one’s performance and enjoyment of the sport. Recognizing the causes and implementing effective prevention and treatment strategies is essential for anyone who spends time on a bike.

Preventing Saddle Sores from Cycling

Preventing saddle sores is far more preferable than treating them. Proper bike fit, high-quality cycling shorts, and meticulous post-ride hygiene are your first line of defense. As a professional cycling coach and former bike shop manager, I’ve always stressed to both athletes and customers that no one has ever been upset when they bought a nice pair of bibs.

Ensuring your bike setup is tailored to your body and riding style can drastically reduce the risk of saddle sores. Additionally, applying chamois cream can provide a protective barrier against friction and bacterial growth, key factors in the development of saddle sores. While no longer marketed at cyclists, Aquaphor still last longer and provides one of the best skin barriers on the market. However, it can be harder to wash out of your chamois compared to other brands.

The Unseen Risks of Hair Removal

While hair removal may seem like a proactive approach to reduce friction, it can inadvertently increase the risk of developing saddle sores. Shaving or waxing can leave the skin vulnerable to infections that contribute to saddle sores from cycling. It is critical to weigh the pros and cons of hair removal in your cycling routine.

Age-Related Saddle Sore Challenges

As we age, our body undergoes changes that may make us more susceptible to saddle sores. It’s crucial to adapt our cycling habits and equipment to these changes to prevent saddle sores. Whether it’s due to decreased flexibility, longer recovery times, or hormonal changes, finding the right gear and possibly seeking medical advice for persistent pelvic pain can make a significant difference.

Cycling Hygiene: A Critical Factor

One of the most important preventative measures against saddle sores from cycling is proper hygiene. Changing out of wet and dirty cycling gear immediately after a ride is non-negotiable. This simple step can prevent the chafing and bacterial growth that lead to saddle sores. 

Most people will fall into the trap of finishing a group ride at a pub or coffee shop and then sitting around for an extended period of time in their bibs. If you know the ride starts and ends there, bring a quick change of clothes to at least get out of your bibs. Then shower as quickly as possible once home.

Adam Galindo, Nurse Practitioner and avid cyclist agrees, saying getting yourself clean as fast as possible after riding with both soap and water can reduce the chances of saddle sores dramatically.

When Saddle Sores Strike: Treatment Options

Even with the best preventive measures, saddle sores can still occur. Treating them promptly and effectively is vital to getting back in the saddle. For non-infected sores, a topical steroid may be used to reduce inflammation. However, infected sores or those exhibiting signs of severe infection may require a course of antibiotics. In very rare cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to open and drain cystic sores.

Adam recommended if you experience increased pain when not on the bike, swelling, redness, or pus-like drainage, it’s likely time to get in to see a doctor. Also, if you develop a fever, you should seek medical care immediately. Saddle sores left untreated can turn into abscesses, and that’s the last thing you want in your groin.

Riding with Saddle Sores

For competitive cyclists, riding through the discomfort of saddle sores is often part of the sport. Using numbing agents can provide temporary relief, but it’s not a long-term solution. If a saddle sore becomes too severe, it can force riders to take a necessary break for proper healing to avoid complications.

Adam also added that if you need to keep training, the use of benzocaine can help lessen the pain by helping to numb the sores.

For the average cyclist time off or reduction is saddle time can drastically improve recovery time. Most saddle sores will heal themselves in 2-5 days with rest but if you must continue on with training, healing can be delayed for up to two or more weeks.

Long-Term Complications

A saddle sore that lingers for too long can lead to cystic formations requiring surgery. Hence, if a sore persists, rest is often prescribed to encourage healing, which is a luxury not always available to competitive riders but is a viable strategy for recreational cyclists.

In conclusion, while saddle sores are an uncomfortable reality in cycling, they are not insurmountable. Through a combination of good hygiene practices, well-chosen equipment, and vigilant care, both recreational riders and professionals can reduce their risk and ensure that cycling remains a joy rather than a pain. Remember, when it comes to saddle sores, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Certified Cycling Coach Garret Seacat

Coach Seacat has carved a space for himself as an expert coach in the discipline of cycling. With 15+ years of coaching and prestigious certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), Coach Seacat brings a comprehensive approach to coaching that combines advanced training techniques with fundamental cycling strategies.