Women-Only Cycling Issues Explained

Q: I need some advice. If anyone can help, Gale, I figure you can. My problems are "down under." In the last few months I started doing indoor spinning classes and I've really enjoyed myself. I was able to lose weight and see new muscle tone. Woohoo!

Then I got what people tell me was a saddle sore. My doctor treated it, but he was not very helpful with giving me tips for prevention. Soon after the saddle sore healed, I got a case bad case of vaginitis—really frustrating.

I've talked to a few friends about this, but they haven't had these problems. What am I doing wrong? I've fallen in love with cycling, but I can't handle the crotch issues. Can you help with some recommendations?

Sincerely, S.B.

Gentlemen, now is the time to bail. For more general advice on preventing saddle sores, click here. 

A: Hey S.B., sorry to hear you've had some trouble. Let me begin with the saddle-sore issue. Part of the following information was extracted from my book, The Female Cyclist:

Saddle Sores
Sores in the groin, upper leg and butt area can be a nuisance—or worse: force you to take time off from cycling. The best treatment for saddle sores is preventing them. The most common sores include blocked or infected glands, which show up as lumps, chafing problems and pain in the pelvic bone area where your weight may be resting.

  • Be certain your bike is set up correctly. A saddle that is too high can force the rider to reach for the pedals, causing either pressure or chafing. A saddle that is too low doesn't allow the legs to support the body and puts excess pressures on your crotch.
  • To help prevent chafing, slather your genital area and upper thigh with a good chamois creme or BodyGlide.
  • Wear padded cycling shorts without underwear. Cycling shorts are designed to reduce friction from seams, and the padding helps reduce pressure on sensitive areas.
  • Good hygiene is essential after the ride. Take off your dirty shorts, wash your crotch and don't wear those shorts again until they have been cleaned.
  • Don't suddenly increase weekly or daily mileage on the bike.
  • If you shave the upper leg and lower torso, a light application of antibiotic ointment after shaving may help prevent red spots and infected bumps.
  • Be certain the bike seat isn't tilted too far up or down. This creates pressure, causing you to constantly push back in the saddle.
  • If problems persist, a different saddle may help, especially one with a soft or cutout area near the nose.
  • Soak in comfortably-hot bath water one to three times per day to help boils surface and drain.
  • Use antibiotic ointments such as Neosporin to aid healing.
  • Apply moleskin with an area cut out around the sore to help keep pressure off the sore itself.

Gentlemen, last chance. This may be information you'd rather not know.

Other Vaginal Issues

Several disorders related to the vaginal area are lumped under the term "vaginitis." Three of the most common problems women experience are vaginitis (sometimes referred to as crotchitis), bacterial infections and yeast infections. Some causes of these problems include warmth, moisture, poor hygiene, overzealous hygiene, chafing of the inner labia, oral medications (such as antibiotics) and allergies.

Crotchitis is irritation or inflammation of the inner labia, urethra, clitoris and the skin around the vagina. Redness, itching and pain are trademark symptoms. Crotchitis is different from saddle sores. Both conditions, however, share some of the same causes such as friction, pressure, warmth and moisture. The preventative measures for saddle sores will also help prevent crotchitis.

Keep the crotch dry and ventilated when off the bike. Breathable fabric underwear and loose fitting shorts or dresses will allow air to this area, making it less inviting for germ growth. After urinating, wipe from front to back or pat the area dry. This reduces the chances of contaminating the vaginal area with stool. Aggressive wiping and rough toilet paper can also irritate the area.

Once you have crotchitis, a non-prescription cream may relieve the itching and help make a bike ride more comfortable. This can be particularly helpful if crotchitis occurs during a multi-day bike tour.

A second type of vaginal problem is bacterial vaginosis. Its primary symptom is foul-smelling, profuse, watery vaginal discharge. Typical treatment includes an antibiotic prescribed by a doctor.

Yeast infections are the third type of vaginal problem. They often produce vaginal discharge, which is thick, foul-smelling and is accompanied by intense itching. After a doctor confirms the condition is a yeast infection, reoccurring yeast infections can be recognized by the woman and treated with over-the-counter medications.

The vaginal environment is a delicate balance of organisms, including normal bacteria and lubricating secretions. When normal secretions are replaced by a discharge that is smelly, unusually thick, or copious, or the vaginal area becomes inflamed or itchy, it is time to seek help. Do not allow a small problem to expand to a larger one.

Hopefully, this information helps prevent further problems.

For more information on this topic, consult Bicycling for Women by Gale Bernhardt, recently published by VeloPress.

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here . Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.



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