Let’s take our relationship to the next level and talk about something a little more, shall we say, intimate…Saddle sores!

What are they?

Saddle sores are an infection under the skin caused by bacteria or fungus.  They are broken down into 3 stages with each one being exponentially more painful and dangerous than the previous:

  1. Skin abrasion
  2. Folliculitis
  3. Abscess

How do they initially appear and progress?

A skin abrasion is caused by your skin rubbing across your chamois and/or from saddle pressure exerted directly on your sit bones (ischial tuberosity, #jeopardyquestion) which irritates the underlying skin.  A skin abrasion can also be caused by salt crystals that have formed via dried sweat.  Basically, the dried salt crystals act like sand paper on your poor bum and irritate the skin.

If you don’t put something on the skin abrasion (I will discuss this later) the bacteria can continue to fester and eventually lead to folliculitis; inflammation of a hair follicle.  This is when a saddle sore begins to get painful and when you REALLY need to start addressing it.

If you continue to ride and not treat the folliculitis it will progress to an abscess.  Now, depending on how quickly you can get to the doctors they may not have to lance and drain it.  With that being said, if you have any type of abscess, infection, or really painful bump “down there” and are reading this, GO TO YOUR DOCTOR!

How do I treat them?

If you are at the skin abrasion or even the beginning folliculitis stage, you can successfully treat the skin and resume your normal riding.  Early intervention is key to a successful treatment!  Here is what I recommend and have done myself at various points in my riding career:

  1. IMMEDIATELY remove your bibs post-ride.  So, no sitting around in the coffee shop or drinking beers with your buddies before changing.
  2. If you can, take a shower ASAP and use some antibacterial soap.  If you cannot take a shower, bring some tea tree oil with you and apply it to the affected area with a cotton ball.  Doing this will kill the existing bacteria and prevent any more colonies from forming.
  3. After you have disinfected the skin, put a salve that ideally contains some antibacterial as well as skin healing ingredients.  I personally use Doc’s Natural Recovery Ointment and have had great success with it.
  4. Repeat these steps after EVERY ride until the saddle sore resolves.  Better still, apply the tea tree oil and healing salve multiple times a day.
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The key to treatment is a great salve!

How do I prevent them?

Prevention of saddle sores is the best defense against them:

  1. Get a professional bike fit and ensure you are riding the correct saddle.
  2. Wear properly fitting bibs and ensure you wash them after every ride.
  3. Change your bibs if you are going on an epic ride half-way through to cut down on those pesky dried salt crystals.
  4. Use a chamois cream before your ride.  I use Gooch Guard before every ride and have not had a sore in a long time.  When using chamois cream, a dime will do you!  Make sure you apply it to your sit bones, “undercarriage” for lack of a better term, and wherever your thighs will rub against one another.  Some people will also apply it directly to their chamois as well.
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The key to prevention is a good chamois cream!

So, what is a saddle sore?  An infection caused by bacteria or fungus that is introduced under the skin via a skin abrasion.  You can prevent them many different ways, but don’t fret if you end up with one.  Most everyone I know that rides has had their fair share of saddle sores and I have dealt with many over my career.  The key is addressing them ASAP and not waiting until a simple skin abrasion progresses to an abscess and requires medical attention.

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in biology, is a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a Category 3 road and cyclocross racer. He is the owner of GC Coaching and the creator and director of P2 Cycling. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

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