Tell me about your experiences with bike seat neuralgia.
June 7, 2011 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about your experiences with bike seat neuralgia.

I am a 41 year old, overweight female. Around May 7, I purchased a Schwinn Avenue bike and started riding it a couple of times a week, about 3 miles at a time. After riding I would have a lot of soreness and bruised feeling for a few days from my perineum to my pubic bone, which I thought was normal "breaking in" and getting used to riding a bike after 25 years. I would also notice some tingling in my genitals.

Concurrent to starting to ride the bike, I started experiencing difficulty with orgasm and realized that clitoral sensation is decreased. I can feel pressure, but not touch.

Coincidentally, I had a Mirena installed in mid-April, so on my follow-up visit to my gynecologist, I asked her about my problems and whether she thought they were Mirena-related or bike-related. She thought it was a bike thing, even though at that time I hadn't ridden for over a week. She verified that I have decreased sensation (in fact, I didn't realize she was even touching me). Her recommendation was to get a fitting at a local bike shop for a properly fitting seat and to call her on July 1 if I'm still numb.

Needless to say, I'm a bit freaked at the state of things and would like some reassurance from others who have been in the same situation that this is a temporary thing and that my parts will soon come back to life. There have been a lot of studies on men with bike-induced erectile dysfunction, but very little seems to be out there about women with bike-induced sexual dysfunction. And I'm really not willing to get back on any bike seat unless I have some sort of assurance that it's not going to cause further damage.

Hope me, Mefi!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I had that and I bought one of those butterfly seats (with a cup for each cheek) in short order. They look funky but they do not leave my business uncomfortably numb. Rather disconcerting the first time it happened (my posture probably had something to do with it) because I had the thought "This is what a Ken doll must feel like."

Sensation returned. Took a while, though, though, for a complete return.
posted by adipocere at 2:52 PM on June 7, 2011

I took a 40+ mile bike ride on a borrowed mens' bike (I am a woman) and let me tell you about numbness! The seat did not hit my sit bones and the seat post was a little high so for 40 miles I was resting on soft tissue. Awesome. Not only was everything swollen, it was bruised and sore and numb. I think I went numb at around 20 miles honestly. So, the swelling and pain went away rather quickly. I had persistent numbness at the base of my pubic bone for probably a good six weeks. I did not notice any sexual dysfunction.

In contrast, I went on a 20 mile bike ride on my own bike Saturday. I had a little tenderness, especially since this was the first time I had ridden a bike since the ill fated 40 miler LAST SUMMER! But today, Tuesday, everything is totally back to normal. I don't ride a ton and I tend to ride long distances when I do so I expect a little soreness the next couple of days.

Do get your bike properly fitted. And look into how your saddle hits your sit bones (a good bike shop should be able to talk to you about saddle fits) and try again. I have several female friends who are long distance cyclists and they mention soreness but no one has mentioned numbness. When I told them the effects of my 40 miler they were SHOCKED and contributed it totally to bad bike fit and the wrong saddle.

So, not a doctor, but in my experience everything got better. I was scared for a little while for sure. Good luck!
posted by rachums at 3:08 PM on June 7, 2011

Two women in my family complained of the same saddle discomfort you did. I recommended to each of them that they go to a reputable bike shop (the one staffed by riders) and ask a sales-LADY for saddle advice. Many shops will have young racers of both genders working there. If the lady racer in your shop is a mechanic, ask her to come out the floor and help you anyway. Both of my relatives did that, and came home with saddles they liked MUCH better than the ones they'd had. It's quite likely you can, too.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 3:55 PM on June 7, 2011

I was reading an article that recommended seats with springs (can't find it now, alas) - apparently, prior to the seventies most seats were sprung and gave better support. Maybe ask about that when you replace the seat? And maybe wait to replace the seat until you're back to normal, just so that you feel confident when riding.

I've definitely bouts of decreased sensation after long rides - but I'm fairly heavy myself and I've found that a well-fitted bike seat doesn't give me problems.

Oh, also check your seat height - if you're pedaling funny, that might be causing pressure.
posted by Frowner at 4:02 PM on June 7, 2011

Okay, I'm a moron and used the wrong terms. It's a "split seat." Example: here.

As you can see from the design, any pressure is on your buttocks, rather than your pudendal nerve, one branch of which is the dorsal nerve of the clitoris. Bicycling is known to have "pudendal neuropathy" as a potential injury.
posted by adipocere at 4:52 PM on June 7, 2011

I've often heard that most saddles not specifically marked as "for women" will be designed for a man's (narrower) pelvis. You may want to look into a female saddle, and, somewhat counter-intuitively, you may also want to look into a less padded saddle. Sometimes, if you sit on a saddle with a lot of padding, it spreads the pressure out over your entire butt, which is not good. You'll be most comfortable if most of your weight is supported on your ischial tuberosities. There's a reason people call those the sit bones.

Here's what Sheldon Brown wrote about saddles. Note, though, that leather degrades quickly if you leave it in the rain and cold.
posted by d. z. wang at 4:56 PM on June 7, 2011

Recumbents are expensive and often heavier, but the good ones have the numbness problem solved. As my neighbor, the retired boat salesman says, "Buy quality and you only cry once." Here is a link to the newbies recumbent forum. I was riding an MTB that was too small, and I was also very stressed while in graduate school, so I experienced numbness in the nether regions as well as wrist and neck pain. I purchased a used 'bent for about $250 and although it is heavy and I am slow, I ride pain free. See also

Note: there are upright riders who have well-fitted bicycles that don't experience numbness or pain. Upright bikes have other advantages as well: you attract less attention and little old ladies don't ask you if you're disabled. Recumbents: the clown cars of the bicycling world.
posted by mecran01 at 6:23 PM on June 7, 2011

A gentleman posting here, so I obviously haven't experienced your exact problem, but I am somewhat overweight and ride regular long distances without serious discomfort.

First of all, you need to get your position and posture on the bike right so that your weight is resting on your 'sit bones' rather than your delicate bits. Your back should be relaxed and ever so slightly hunched over, like the back of a pianist. In this position there should be very little weight on your hands and your body should absorb bumps easily. You might need to adjust the position of the saddle and bars so that it feels natural.

Second, a saddle that feels squishy to the hand is probably causing trouble too. All that padding is doing nothing but squashing the bits it shouldn't when you sit on it. You might be better off with a sprung saddle like this, which feels hard, but distributes your weight evenly. The springs provide the suspension. Expensive though. If you're lucky you might find a bike shop that has saddles you can try before you buy.
posted by col at 4:54 AM on June 8, 2011

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