Cycling, at any pace and on any terrain, may provide major health advantages to the body.
Indoor cycling, for example, has been associated with better blood pressure, body composition, and aerobic ability, according to a research review published in Medicine in August 2019. Another research, published in the September 2021 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, discovered that cycling helped diabetics live longer lives, in part by lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Your joints will most likely like it as well. The action is low-impact, which means you won’t be putting as much strain on your knees, hips, and ankles as you would with a high-impact sport like jogging. A 2018 study published in PeerJ examined at elderly persons with knee osteoarthritis and discovered that cycling not only relieved symptoms but also improved the overall quality of life for many of them.
However, ardent bikers are aware that the sport might have certain unfavorable side effects. While some of the most typical inconveniences can occur for leisure cyclists who ride for 30 to 60 minutes, others are reserved for people who pedal vast distances or ride for hours. Here are some of the more prevalent ones, as well as what you can do about them.
Friction and moisture together can cause irritation, both when skin rubs against skin and when skin rubs against clothes repeatedly. The Mayo Clinic describes intertrigo, also known as chafing, as a condition that occurs most frequently in moist parts of the body such as the groin, between folds of skin, and underarms while riding a bike.
According to Paul Warloski, a USA Cycling-certified cycling coach and NSSA-certified personal trainer in Milwaukee, one of the most prevalent causes of chafing is underwear worn with cycling shorts or bibs (clothes meant to be worn without underwear).
“Underwear defeats the purpose,” he declares. “The foam material inside the shorts is designed to reduce chafing and keep your booty and private bits happy and secure, not just for padding.”
Warloski recommends washing in between wears. “I usually wash mine in warm to hot water, then hang them to dry.” While certain materials may be dryer-safe, air drying will avoid shrinkage, disintegration, and loss of suppleness.
It is also crucial to change riding postures more frequently, such as going farther back on the seat, briefly transferring weight from one side to the other, or pushing forward enough to raise most of your buttocks off the seat for a few seconds.
2. Saddle Bruises
If chafing persists, you may notice little lumps on your buttocks or between your legs, especially where you make contact with a seat – these are known as saddle sores. It may happen to both novice and expert cyclists. “Hot spots usually occur on my upper and inner thigh when I wear new bibs [a type of cycling short with suspender-like straps to prevent slipping or bunching] or bibs that fit slightly differently,” Warloski explains.
These are often caused by friction alone, but they can also be caused by perspiration becoming stuck in hair follicles, resulting in an infection that can range from little, pimple-like eruptions to bigger, severe boils, he adds. According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), even small injuries should be treated because they might worsen with additional riding. Even little ones may be exceedingly unpleasant, but if they burst, they can get infected, which is why you should strive to avoid them, warns Warloski.
What should be done? Padded cycling shorts are frequently used to avoid this issue. Warloski also suggests applying chamois cream, especially on longer rides. This ointment helps to decrease friction and chafing. He also recommends getting off the saddle for a few seconds every 10 minutes to reduce strain on your rear. (You do not need to stop riding; simply stand up for a few seconds.)
If you experience moderate chafing, administer first aid cream right away. According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, if you have more serious chafing with sores or lumps, consult your doctor, who may prescribe a medicinal cream like cortisone, an antifungal, or an antibacterial preparation.
Other possible causes include a poorly fitted bike or seat, as well as extended rides without sufficient training. According to AMSSM, if the condition is extremely severe, you may need to take a break from riding to allow the sores to heal.
3. ‘Down There’ Numbness
Another unsettling impact of rides, particularly lengthy ones, is genital numbness caused by body mechanics, according to Garret Seacat, CSCS, a USA Cycling-certified cycling coach headquartered in Manhattan, Kansas.
This is particularly true for women. Cycling, according to research published in the June 2021 issue of Sexual Medicine, increased the risk of microtrauma to the genital area in women due to perineal pressure (pressure to the pelvis and areas around the opening of the vagina). Not only does this lead to numbness, but it may also damage sexual function, according to the study. Men are not immune to this; past study shows that there may be links between cycling-related numbness and erectile problems.
What should be done? This is another condition that, like saddle sores and chafing, may be avoided or decreased by wearing padded cycling shorts or bibs, changing positions on the seat frequently, standing up sometimes, and taking regular rests.
“Riding for shorter distances doesn’t usually build up the same friction as longer rides,” Warloski explains. “Thousands of pedal strokes rubbing against the same spot can be difficult.” That’s why shifting around in your saddle is beneficial.” He also claims that chamois cream for ladies reduces perineal pressure.
Seacat adds that if these techniques still cause discomfort, try altering your seat or ensuring you’re correctly suited on your bike – even a tiny bit of bad fit, he says, can raise the pressure in the wrong areas.
4. The Itch of the Runner
Despite the name, this is a problem that may occur in a variety of sports, particularly when doing an unfamiliar move frequently.
Warming up causes increased blood flow throughout the body, but notably in the legs, according to Lily Adelzadeh, MD, a dermatologist at the Berman Skin Institute in California. The nerves might be activated when the capillaries enlarge and more blood is sent into your muscles. So, while it may seem like an itch, what you’re really feeling is a nerve response, according to her.
Another aspect to consider while you continue riding is a slight allergic reaction to laundry detergent or soap because greater perspiration leads pores to open up further. That can be especially troublesome if your cleaning solutions have a strong smell, which she notes is a leading cause of contact dermatitis – when you feel a true itch, not simply a nerve reaction.
What should be done? According to Dr. Adelzadeh, the more you cycle, the less frequently this should happen until it disappears altogether. Regular riding helps to condition your cardiovascular system, which improves blood flow and nerve modulation, making it less of an issue. She also recommends switching to a light, unscented laundry detergent just in case.