Pedal Without Pain: Managing Pelvic Floor Dysfunction in Cycling
If you’re a cyclist experiencing discomfort, it’s crucial to understand that pelvic floor pain and cycling often go hand-in-hand due to specific anatomical pressures involved in the sport. To help you maintain your passion for cycling while addressing this common issue, we’ve teamed up with pelvic floor specialist Dr. Lora Seacat, DPT, to explore the causes of pelvic floor discomfort in cyclists and provide effective strategies to ride pain-free. This insight is essential for avid and casual cyclists seeking to balance their love for biking with their pelvic health needs.
Anatomy and Physiology Impact on Pelvic Floor Health
The design of a typical bike seat can exert pressure on the ischial tuberosities or sit bones and lead to potential restrictions in the connective, nerve, and muscular tissue, affecting the pudendal neurovascular bundle. This bundle is vital for genital sensation. It also plays a major role in urinary, bowel, and sexual functions. When cycling, the anterior pelvic tilt caused by leaning forward to lower positioned handlebars causes the space under the pubic symphysis to be vulnerable. This greatly increases the likelihood of compressing the sensitive nerves and creating pelvic floor dysfunction.
It is important to note that areas of the low back, hips, pelvic tissues and genitals may all influence pelvic function. A skilled professional, such as a pelvic health doctor of physical therapy, is trained to consider all influencing factors in to pelvic sensation or function changes.
Blood Flow Considerations
Good blood flow is essential for the normal functioning of all body parts, including the pelvic floor. The prolonged pressure from a bike saddle can mimic the effect of a too-tight blood pressure cuff, restricting blood flow and resulting in tingling, numbness, or pain.
Other factors influencing pelvic health in the saddle are: ride duration, geometry of the bike, your personal pelvic structure to saddle, pedal stroke and balance, and hip strength.
Strategies to Reduce Pelvic Floor Pain and Cycling
1. Cycle Moderation and Recovery:
Consider taking short breaks from cycling to allow your pelvic floor to recover. Substitute cycling with low-impact exercises like swimming or walking to maintain fitness without exacerbating pelvic floor pain. If you have a cycling coach talk to them about it and make sure they are aware of what’s going on. This will ensure they aren’t trying to force you into something you can’t handle.
2. Adjust Riding Position:
Regularly change your position on the bike. Aim to stand and get out of the for 10-30 seconds every 10 minutes of riding to alleviate sustained pressure on the pelvic floor. This can be even more important when you get stuck inside riding a trainer.
3. Saddle Selection and Fitting:
Selecting the right saddle can significantly reduce the risk of pelvic floor pain. It’s worth noting that a larger or wider saddle doesn’t always mean more comfort. The larger the saddle, the higher the chance of soft tissue touching or rubbing and causing irritation. That means going to a bike shop and finding a saddle that will distribute weight on the sit bones and ensure proper fitting for optimal pelvic support and alignment. Pro tip: most brands carried in bike shops provide a 30 day guarantee so you can make sure it works for you.
4. Manage Pelvic Posture:
Adjust your bike’s handlebars for a higher position to promote a more upright sitting posture, minimizing anterior pelvic tilt and reducing compression in the pelvic region. This can be quickly done by purchasing a new stem with a larger angle. Most bikes come with a 7-9 degree stem, so buying a larger angle will raise the bars up and also slightly move them closer.
5. Consult a Specialist:
If pelvic floor pain persists, seek out a pelvic floor physical therapist. They can offer personalized assessments and interventions tailored to your specific cycling posture and technique.
Overcoming Pelvic Floor Pain
Cycling should not come with the cost of pelvic floor discomfort. By understanding the risk factors and implementing the five strategies outlined, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of experiencing pelvic floor pain. If symptoms persist, professional guidance from a physical therapist specializing in pelvic health is strongly recommended, like Dr. Lora at Mathis Pelvic Rehab.
Enjoy your ride, and take care of your pelvic health with these mindful practices.
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.