Cycling with a saddle sore
April 25, 2014 1:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm training for my first cycling tour, a 7-day trip between Pittsburgh and DC on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal paths. The tour is in a month, and I've been working up to longer rides in the past several months, hitting about 50 miles the last two weekends. I think I'm getting a saddle sore on my inner thigh and want to know what I can do to prevent it from becoming a problem.

Right now it's just a bump that isn't very painful and I can't feel it when I ride, but it also doesn't seem to go away even if I go several days without riding. It is on my inner thigh pretty close to my groin. I am self-diagnosing a saddle sore based on the Google images I've seen.

What can I do now to treat it? The Internet tells me to use antiseptic cream, tea tree oil, and/or diaper rash cream.

The Internet also tells me to stop riding my bike for a few days, which I'd rather not do since I'm gearing up to ride every day to get the feeling of being on my bike on consecutive days.

Today I rode with a blister bandage over it, but that didn't prevent the sore from appearing larger and more irritated at the end of the ride.

My saddle is wide and women-specific, but I do plan to go to my shop and try one with a more narrow shape to see if that helps. I am about 50 pounds overweight so I have a lot of thigh in contact with my saddle. Right now I use an anti-chafing cream instead of chamois cream which seems to work pretty well.

Cyclists of MeFi: how do you treat saddle sores if you want to ride every day?
posted by megancita to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you actually go to a doctor to have it looked at? I say this because I'm not much of a cyclist anymore (I had an accident) but during the time I was, I was overweight and never had any pressure problems that didn't markedly improve after a couple days not riding. Once it hits that point, it might be a good idea for a doctor to have a look, because this way it's well in advance of your trip.
posted by Sequence at 1:43 PM on April 25, 2014

I have had some success dumping a bunch (a LOT) of epsom salt and tea tree oil into a pot of very hot, nearly boiling water, and applying that to my saddle sore gently, with a hot towel. Over and over and over again.
posted by entropone at 1:55 PM on April 25, 2014

Sorry, but - you really have to give it a rest. A few days now will be worth its weight on your mind later, believe me.
posted by Dashy at 2:00 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

After you have rested/seen a doctor, here a few recommendations to prevent future trouble.

Visit a bike fitter to be sure your bike is set up to encourage a symmetrical riding position--you might be riding lopsided to protect/favor something (knees? back?) without realizing it. This is a good idea before embarking on tour training, even without sores.

Check your saddle for uneven wear. I developed a small sore a few years ago and after a month of suffering found that my saddle had cracked (only visible from underneath), forming a tiny bump in exactly the wrong place.

Consider different shorts to really snug down your thighs. I am 40ish pounds overweight with hips/thighs of doom, and I really like Terry's Bella shorts for this. (The size chart lies...38" waist/50" hips and the XXL's fit fine.) Their T-shorts also come in plus sizes and are very comfortable, though the fabric is less compressive.
posted by esoterrica at 2:39 PM on April 25, 2014

Yeah, sounds like you just have to wait it out. Try aloe vera gel to make it heal faster. What kind of anti-chafing cream do you use? Have you considered another body glide (e.g. the kind that comes in a deodorant stick-like package)?
posted by spiderskull at 2:50 PM on April 25, 2014

I've only gotten chafing--which, maybe, was actually a saddle sore?--from breaking in a new Brooks saddle at the beginning of a tour. I made sure to change my cycling shorts daily to prevent bacterial buildup from further irritating the chafing, not wear underwear with them (the seams seemed to have started the problem), and I tried to avoid unders entirely while it healed so it got more air when I was off the bike. Also I did some short days so as not to further irritate it, and took a day or two off. That's really what I'd do in your situation; you've got an entire month to prepare. Plus, the experience of a tour is totally different than squeezing in rides after work or around your home and social obligations/distractions; riding will be your life, not something you fit in around your life.

FYI unrelatedly, if you're getting shoulder/knee/wrist pain now, you should assume it'll accumulate on tour but also try to diagnose it before you leave since the fixes may be just simple adjustments.
posted by tapir-whorf at 3:13 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't specify how long you've been cycling, but if it's a new hobby/activity for you, it will take a while for your skin to get used to a bicycle seat. I began cycling heavily about 10 years ago and had major problems with sores and ingrown hairs for a bit (your saddle sore may very likely be an irritated ingrown hair). After a year or so this abated, but I still get a little chafed during long rides like centuries, etc.

I've had very good luck with a product called Bodyglide -- if you can't take a break from cycling to let this heal, you might be able to keep it from getting too much worse with a liberal application of this or a similar dry lube product.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:21 PM on April 25, 2014

I've been cycling regularly again for about 4 months. If I do see a doctor to get it checked out, is there a particular kind of doctor to see? A family doc? A dermatologist?
posted by megancita at 4:53 PM on April 25, 2014

A doctor who cycles, who can appreciate how such a seemingly small thing can be so concerning! Ask around your cycling circle: I'm sure there's one in your area.

The skin is the largest organ and the real experts are plastic surgeons (if you had a pressure sore, that's what I choose) but a derm will probably be great.
posted by Jesse the K at 5:56 PM on April 25, 2014

I have managed to disappear small saddle sores within a day or two by applying strong pimple cream (Clearasil Ultra Rapid Action - active ingredient salicylic acid) at night and Lucas Pawpaw Ointment (basically just petroleum jelly with papaya extract) in the morning. The pimple cream is quite astringent so you do have to be careful not to get it on any sensitive bits, but since a saddle sore in its early stages is basically just an inconveniently located pimple, it makes sense that pimple cream would do the job. The pawpaw ointment is good for preventing chafing during day to day riding, and it smells a bit nicer than ordinary Vaseline. The manufacturer claims it has anti-septic properties too, but I'm not sure whether that's evidence-based or not.

For longer rides I use chamois cream, and I would definitely recommend giving it a try during your tour. As a woman it's best to avoid brands that say "Euro Style" (code for tingly fresh menthol, youch!) or "anti-bacterial" (cause our lady bits don't like having their flora messed with). Use more than you think you need, and remember "chamois cream" is a euphemism - it goes on your body, not the inside of your shorts.

There are also a few things you can do to prevent saddle sores from forming. I presume you're already wearing padded cycling shorts for long rides, but if not, it's worth switching - the internal chamois will do a lot to draw sweat away from your body. Never sit around in sweaty clothes - after a long ride even the cleanest rider's shorts are pretty much a bacteria farm, so get them off and take a shower as soon as you get home. If you're doing full-day touring in hot weather, it may even be worth changing into a fresh pair after lunch. But don't be tempted to wear underwear underneath - that would defeat the purpose of the chamois. When you're off the bike, wear cotton underwear whenever possible.

I did once see my GP for a saddle sore - it wasn't huge but it was quite painful, and I also wanted to make super extra certain that it wasn't an STI. She said it was definitely just a saddle sore and prescribed an oral course of antibiotics. I queried whether this was absolutely necessary and she said no, but they might help the sore heal a little faster. It ended up shrinking on its own the next day so I didn't bother taking them. I have heard from cyclist friends that particularly bad or inconveniently timed saddle sores (say, before a big race) can be dealt with by having antibiotics injected directly into the sore, but I have never been desperate enough to seek that option out. I guess it would be a job for a dermatologist or a doctor who specialises in cycling. Definitely see a doctor if you start getting broken skin or signs of spreading infection, but I think most small saddle sores can be treated easily enough at home.
posted by embrangled at 1:06 AM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Riding with an irritated bump, whether pimple or in-grown hair, does not end well, IME. If it breaks or pops, you will have an open wound which will take longer to heal.

The advice above about cleanliness, changing after exercise and wearing proper shorts (at least as a base layer) are key to avoiding these problems in the future. These are especially important for long-distance and multi-day cycle trips.
posted by bonehead at 9:01 AM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does your bike fit properly? Last year I had a bike slightly too large for me and going on 30 mile rides killed me down there as well as my lower back. I got a very well fitted bike from a locally owned bike shop owned by a bike expert, problem solved on all fronts. If you are going to be doing so much cycling, and have this the wrong sized bike, I would highly recommend getting the right bike know, it's worth the investment. Also, I agree that you need to give it a rest for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, can you train standing up slightly on your pedals during your training, do more hills that would accommodate that? this would help you stay in shape while you are recovering.
posted by waving at 5:14 AM on April 28, 2014

Wear 2 pairs of good cycle shorts
I usually wear the same size but 2 diff brands, to get good comfort
Might sound weird but for a long ride it makes a massive difference
posted by edtut at 4:12 AM on April 29, 2014

For anyone who has this issue in the future: I eventually stopped cycling for about two weeks and went to see a dermatologist. She injected the sore with some steroids and gave me a prescription cleanser to use. Basically, she said the sore was an infection caused most likely by wearing sweaty bike shorts for hours and hours. She said it could also be a cyst that she could excise later if I still felt it after the steroid treatment. But the steroid shot in combination with the time off the bike worked really well and I went on my bike tour using my original saddle w/o a recurrence of the sore.
posted by megancita at 2:55 PM on June 14, 2014

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