Training

Uncomfortably Numb

Long stints in the saddle can lead to pain and numbness for more than 20 per cent of cyclists. If you’ve suffered in silence until now, here’s how to prevent one of cycling’s most common injuries…

Symptoms

This is one of the more common injuries suffered by cyclists, and numbness is the main symptom. One study reported 21 per cent of men suffering numbness of the penis after a long distance ride. Women are affected too – 34 per cent of female members of a Dallas cycling club reported perineal numbness after cycling. Symptoms are usually short-lived, though six per cent of the male cyclists suffered for more than a week. More advanced symptoms include pain, incontinence, erectile dysfunction in men and sexual dysfunction in women.

Causes

The pudendal nerve that gives feeling to the genitalia gets squashed and has its blood supply reduced, reducing its ability to work properly. New cyclists are probably more at risk, although established cyclists who change their bike setup or increase their training load significantly may also be affected. Narrower saddles and longer rides are also implicated. Underlying physical conditions such as diabetes or prolapsed intervertebral discs can produce similar symptoms. Numbness that is persistent or not related to cycling should be assessed by a doctor urgently.

Treatment

Prevention is better than cure! Choose a saddle that properly supports the ‘sit bones’, relieving pressure at the front of the pelvis, and wear good cycling shorts. Women generally need a wider saddle than men, while a saddle that is too high relative to the handlebar will also put pressure on the pudendal nerve. A slight downward tilt to the front of the saddle can also help. Try a period of shorter rides or more rests during longer rides and build up saddle time gradually. A professional bike fit is probably a worthwhile investment if you are suffering recurrent problems.

 
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