Ask Ella: Why are my lady bits hurting after cycling?
Who doesn’t love the banter at the post-ride park-up? Talk of the ride, other adventures, equipment and then there are those tidbits that usually fall under the class of TMI (too much information). Something I love about the ladies I ride with, is there is never such a thing as TMI. So true to form over my delicious almond chai on the weekend, the talk turned to sore lady-bits, to be specific saddle sores – that unwanted guest you never want to visit.
It took me right back to that first embarrassing conversation on keeping things comfortable down there. Getting ready for my first 90 kilometre bike ride Dad said “Sheyleigh, you’re gonna need chamois cream.” I looked at him with a puzzled face. He disappeared into the next room and came back with a tube of chamois cream called DZ Nuts and my face went from puzzled to adamant. There was no way I was going to use that!
I pointed out to Dad it clearly wasn’t needed for girls, after all we are missing the appendage in the title. This was definitely not a conversation I wanted to have with my Dad.
At that stage I knew that starting out cycling it could feel a little like you fell and touched down on the worst possible place, but what I didn’t know was that preventative measures were well worth it as the soreness and pain could continue. Heck, it’s even an ongoing issue for some of the top cyclists in the world.
So what is causing my lady bits to hurt?
It isn’t always one simple answer as there can be multiple contributing factors:
Saddle Fit. It may be that you haven’t yet found the right saddle for you, and that’s not just down to sit bone measurement, it can get pretty personal. As we discussed in the last Ask Ella, what is right varies with key considerations such as gender, riding style, sit bone measurement and position on the bike.
Friction. If you thought chafing was just for runners, check again. The contact of rubbing against the saddle can cause it too. There are a number of factors that can contribute to this but I would recommend never skimping when it comes to cycling shorts, as a good pair can make so much difference. The chamois padding is strategically placed to reduce pressure on the inner thighs and soft-tissue area, to reduce post-ride soreness.
All those lovely lumps like pimples, boils and ingrown hairs. What a tasty topic, but trust me on this, if you think a pimple on the face can be tender, around your delicate nether-region, ingrown hairs and the like are a little harder to ignore.
What can I do to prevent the pain?
While some people are more prone to saddle sores there are things you can do to help:
Wear padded cycling shorts. You may feel like you’re wearing a diaper or nappy but they’re designed for a purpose and there’s a reason why the pros are wearing them. Always wear clean shorts too – it may have only been an hour ride but it doesn’t take long for them to be “used”. For longer endurance events, make sure you also change shorts, as no matter how amazing your knicks are they’ll still become a bacterial cesspool after you’ve spent hours and hours in them. And ladies, ditch the lingerie. It may feel weird being in your birthday suit under the shorts, but wearing underwear just undermines many of the benefits of those carefully designed cycling shorts you lashed out on.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for chamois cream. Reduce that friction with some good ol’ fashion butt cream. There are no niceties around this concept. Apart from reducing friction, chamois creams can often have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Let’s not pretend we can go from naught to pro straight away. At the gym you don’t go from 20 kilogram lifts to 100 kilograms immediately. It’s best to build up the kilometres slowly to allow yourself to adjust so you can accommodate the new regime.
If the saddle fits. The saddle doesn’t always deserve to have a finger pointed at it, but some saddles suit better than others, so go to the effort of finding one that is right for you. It could also be down to the positioning of the saddle, so if in doubt get it checked out. A well adjusted seat should result in most of the pressure being applied to your sit bones.
Hair removal regime. Never shave dry skin and hang out in the shower or bath a while before you start shaving as this will soften the hair and open up follicles. After hair removal, you can prevent ingrown hairs by exfoliating. Exfoliating is the best way to remove dead skin cells that are left on your body. The exfoliating gloves are a great inexpensive way to get the job done. Tight clothing can also cause friction and pressure on your hair follicles, this can make the hair curl back instead of growing out.
And if you really want to take your saddle sore prevention super seriously, don’t shave or wax at all. Now I know that may sound extreme but that’s the message British Cycling, the masters of marginal gains, had for their female cyclists. The reason, according to this article in The Guardian, is that hair removal methods such as shaving, depilatory creams or epilation create damage to the outer layer of the skin and increase the risk of ingrowing hairs and hair follicle infections.
Don’t suffer in silence
Remember, this is general advice, I’m no doctor here but so far, I’ve never encountered any saddle sores (fingers crossed luck stays on my side). If symptoms persist you should consult a bike fit expert or your doctor. Whatever you do, don’t be too shy to speak up about it. It’s a common issue right across all levels of cyclists, so chances are you’ll find a sympathetic ear.
Got a burning cycling question on another topic you want answered? You can send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop us a line on Facebook and you just may find the answer in one of our upcoming Ask Ella columns.