Making sure you have the correct fitting saddle is vital for both comfort and health whether this be in training or racing. CES Sport Ambassador and Tri Force Endurance Coach Laura Addie explains how cycling can cause many issues if you are not fitted to the equipment correctly, and also how women suffer with their own unique set of issues due to anatomy differences. Studies have shown that up to 91% of women suffer with problems ‘down below’.
The shape of the saddle is usually the main cause, however finding the correct saddle can take a lot of trial and error as is dependent upon many different factors such as; body type, duration of riding and biomechanics.
The vulva and soft tissue around the sit bones are usually the most commonly affected areas with problems such as; skin irritation, ingrown hairs and chafing and the way to tissue swelling and yeast infections. Numbness is also a common issue experienced by women, numb areas almost always indicate there is too much pressure in the wrong place.
Swelling in the labia can occur on either the inner or outer side of the lips as a result of lack of lymphatic drainage due to a period of prolonged pressure being applied. Take this seriously as it can easily set up a vicious cycle of less drainage and more swelling. It may require a period of rest to let the inflammation settle.
Infections are also a common issue experienced by female cyclists as bacteria multiplies quickly due to sweating and tight fitting clothing. The hot, moist environment can trigger and overgrowth of yeast. These infections usually present themselves as unusual discharge, odour change or a burning sensation when urinating.
Chafing and sores can range from small spot like sores to large painful boils. Consistent pressure in the same place will irritate and inflame your skin, leaving it open and prone to infection. To avoid chafing, preventative measures such as chamois cream and anti-bacterial creams can help reduce friction between the skin and clothing.
Pressure or saddle mapping has been shown to help find the correct fit as it helps understand how much pressure is occurring and where and any given point or position. If you’re sitting upright a wider fit saddle is likely to be more suitable to help support the sit bones. When cycling in a more aggressive position and leaning forward, greater support is needed at the front of the saddle to cushion the pelvic bones and reduce pressure through the soft tissue.
It is much easier to deal with and resolve these common problems at the onset, so don’t ride through the pain just hoping it will stop. Most issues can be resolved easily with small tweaks to position and bike set up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and talk about any issues you might be facing, it’s completely normal and something that needs to be sorted for your riding comfort and general health.
Laura Addie (Tri Force Endurance)