Saddle sores are painful skin lesions that can form on parts of the body that are in contact with a bicycle seat. Treating saddle sores may involve applying topical ointments and staying off your bike to let them heal. For more serious cases, medical attention may be appropriate.
You can reduce your risk for developing saddle sores by selecting a padded bicycle seat, wearing cycling shorts, and taking other precautions.
Read on to learn more about what causes saddle sores and how to treat and prevent them.
There are four common types of saddle sores: chafing, ulcerations, furuncles, and folliculitis. The type determines the severity of the injury.
Chafing is the most common and least serious type of saddle sore.
When the skin on your thighs rub against the bicycle seat during cycling, it can get chafed, resulting in redness and irritation. The risk of chafing increases if the inside material of your cycling shorts has become worn or if your skin is bare and in direct contact with the seat.
Left untreated, chafing may lead to ulcerations.
Ulcerations occur when the top layer of skin has been worn off from chafing or the pressure of your bodyweight against the saddle. Ulcerations are highly vulnerable to bacterial infection.
Furuncles and folliculitis
These types of saddle sores indicate an infection is present. These are the most severe types of saddle sores.
A furuncle is also known as a boil. It’s a fluid-filled bump that forms around an infected hair follicle.
Folliculitis is the inflammation or infection of a hair follicle, resulting in what looks like a pimple.
Many saddle sores form because of excessive sweating and the rubbing of skin. Anyone can develop saddle sores, but you may be at increased risk if you take a long bike ride. This is because your skin is less likely to “breathe” if you spend an extended amount of time on the saddle without a break.
Other risk factors may include:
- increased body weight
- improper bicycle fit for your frame
- little position change while riding
- exposed skin to the saddle
- loose-fitting shorts or pants
If you develop saddle sores, you may be able to find some relief using one or more of the following home remedies:
- Stay off your bike for at least a couple of days. Skin can heal quickly if it’s not continually being irritated.
- Keep the affected parts of your skin clean and dry to avoid infection or further irritation.
- Try topical ointments, such as diaper-rash cream, antibiotic cream, and hemorrhoid cream (Preparation H), which can help sooth irritated and inflamed skin.
- Use over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- Apply a warm compress to the affected area.
Minor chafing and ulcerations usually don’t require medical attention. However, if your saddle sores don’t begin to heal within a few days or they’re open sores that are painful and appear infected, see a doctor right away. Pus and fever are signs of an infection.
A doctor may recommend prescription antibiotics, including oral medications and topical creams to be applied on the lesions themselves. If a furuncle has formed, a doctor may need to drain it.
Saddle sores can’t always be prevented, but with a properly fitted bike, the right bike shorts, and a few other strategies, you may be able to reduce the likelihood of developing painful saddle sores. To help prevent them from ruining the fun of a bike ride, consider these steps:
- Choose a saddle that’s right for you. More padding isn’t always the solution to a more comfortable ride. The same is true for a wider saddle. If it’s too wide, it can cause pressure on the inner thighs. The saddle needs to match your body type. Ask for help selecting a seat from an employee at a bicycle or sporting good store.
- Use a chamois cream on your inner thighs and groin area to help reduce chafing.
- Wear cycling shorts or bibs that are seamless and have a well-cushioned chamois, the crotch section of the shorts.
- Change your position frequently while riding. If you’re able, hovering over the saddle, especially when on an incline, leads to decreased body pressure against the saddle and increased blood flow. That can help reduce risk of chafing and saddle sore.
- Rest and get off your bicycle frequently. You may want to consider shorter bike rides with a change of shorts and a shower in between rides.
- Change out of your cycling shorts as soon as your ride is over and wash them thoroughly. Taking a shower soon after riding can also help keep bacteria from developing on any skin irritations.
Saddle sores can often be easily treated and prevented. Getting a proper fit at a bicycle shop and wearing the right clothes can help. You may also want to get pointers about body positioning to help reduce pressure and chafing risks.
If you do develop saddle sores, take it easy and give yourself time to heal. Continuing to ride with sores will likely make them worse. Talking with other cycling enthusiasts about their home remedies and preventive strategies may be very helpful, too.