You love to bike. It's great exercise and a fun way to see the sights. But do you think the only safety measure you need is to wear a helmet? There are other parts of your body that also need protection.
You may feel numbness in your genital area after a long ride. Some bicyclists believe that is normal. But it's not normal to feel numbness in the genital area. Actually it's not normal to lose feeling or feel numbness in any part of your body. Numbness in the groin or genitals can be a warning sign that should be acted upon. Get off of your bike saddle if you feel numbness beginning.
Numbness in the groin following biking may result in erectile dysfunction (ED) for men. Talk to your doctor if you ride a bike or stationary cycle and are having numbness in the groin or sexual problems in general.
What causes the numbness?
Too much pressure on the perineum while cycling can cause genital numbness. This can affect sexual function. The perineum is a diamond shaped area in the groin between the anus and the genitals. Pressure on the perineum can cut off blood flow and put pressure on nerves. The experience is far from rare in women and men. In a study, male amateur cyclists who participated in long-distance rides experienced an overall ED rate of 13 percent. The rate was 3.9 percent among non-cyclists. Other studies show that great numbers of men who cycle more than about 250 miles per week are affected with genital numbness (61 percent) and ED (24 percent).
Preventing cycling-related ED
Finding a better bike saddle
In a study with male bike patrol officers riding an average of 25 hours a week, the majority had numbness in the groin and ED. Another study showed that numbness declined and erectile function improved for a large number of the officers after using no-nose saddles for six months. Other studies found that a wide saddle with no nose offers the most protection against pressure on the arteries and genital nerves. Other research shows that saddles with a wide cutout are even more effective than saddles with a narrow hole or those with no cutout.
Getting the angle right
The angle of the bicycle seat can also make a difference. A flatter angle causes the least pressure. Leaning forward toward the handlebars also increases pressure on the perineum. Riding in a more upright position and changing positions regularly are helpful. Standing every 10 minutes may also be helpful.
Padding in your saddle and your clothing can be helpful. Saddles with medium padding showed up in studies as the most effective. Having no padding or having very thick padding was not as helpful as medium padding. Padded bicycle shorts for both men and women come in a variety of designs and thicknesses and can be helpful in preventing sore buttocks. Take the time to find out what works for you.
What else can you do?
Knowing your bicycle is a good first step to heading off problems. Today's bicycles have many frame sizes and types, with parts that can be adjusted for the rider and his type of cycling.
When stopping or taking a break, get off of the bike saddle. Don't lean against a pole or post to stay seated on your bike saddle when you are not riding. This gives the nerves a break from any pressure.
Your most important action? Don't be shy. Keep biking healthfully with the help and advice of your bike shop pro and perhaps your best wellness partner — your doctor.
Created on 03/24/2009
Updated on 08/09/2013
- FamilyDoctor.org. Bike safety tips.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No-nose saddles for preventing genital numbness and sexual dysfunction from occupational bicycling.
- Sommer F., Goldstein I., Korda JB, Bicycle Riding and erectile dysfunction: a review,” J. Sex Medicine 2010 July 7(7) 2346-58. Epub2010 Jan 19.