Investigative Feature: Debunking the carbuncle
By Guido Bruidoclarke ~ this article appeared in dandyhorse issue one, summer 2008 ~
Think about a piece of sandpaper rubbing against the inside of your thigh over an open wound. This is what a saddle sore feels like and it can destroy what would otherwise be a very enjoyable bicycle ride.
Saddle sores are lesions that break out on your bottom where the skin contacts the saddle. While you are cycling your body weight is concentrated on your sit bones. Because the saddle is designed to make contact with only these two bones, the skin becomes red, and tender with continued riding.
The pain gradually resolves with more “seat time.” However, with continued riding, persistent pain and eventual skin breakdown or ulceration may occur.
There are four different kinds of saddle sores. Chafing is a result of the constant rubbing of the inner thighs and groin against the bicycle seat; the resultant friction causes skin breakdown to manifest as a red, inflamed abrasion. A folliculitis is an infection of the base of a hair follicle, while a furuncle, or boil, is a walled-off collection of pus (an abscess). These infectious processes occur most commonly in areas of the body subjected to minor trauma, such as the groin. While a folliculitis is often relatively painless, a furuncle is usually painful, and may initially look and feel like a pimple. If not allowed to heal, a furuncle can become quite large and exquisitely painful. Skin ulceration produces a small, crater-like lesion that occurs to about 10% of cyclists completing a 500-mile, week-long ride.
Since the outer protective layer of the epidermis is damaged, bacteria may gain access to the deeper layers of the skin. Although it occurs relatively infrequently, a more extensive infection (cellulitis) may result if a skin ulcer is not treated appropriately. So, now that you know what saddle sores are, you will want to know how you can make them better and banish them forever.
First, make sure you have a good saddle. You want a saddle that is wide enough to support your sit bones and smooth so it doesn’t cause friction.
Nix any gel seats that can shift around and cause friction. While riding, stand up off the saddle every fifteen minutes or so. The saddle should be at a proper height so your hips don’t rock back and forth. Make sure you have a slight bend in your knee when your pedal stroke is fully extended. (Some say 'going commando' is a good way to friction.)
Invest in a good pair of riding shorts. There should be no seams running down the middle of the chamois. Clean cycling shorts are also important.
Take your cycling attire off as soon as you can after a ride. A wet chamois is a breeding ground for germs and just asking for trouble against abraded skin. Keep the skin clean. Moisturizing cream can be used for inflamed tissue, but avoid rubbing alcohol or topical steroids. Stay away from tight-fitting clothing. This will cut down on pant temperature and moisture.
One more little trick for keeping away the nastiness is to coat under the sit bones and the chamois with Vaseline.
If you follow all of these steps and you still end up with a sore that is out of control, please seek medical attention. And to finish; a little sound advice from former pro cyclist, Maogosha Pyjor: “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to use Lanicane to numb the affected area… just so that you can continue to ride. This will result in much more [pain] than you can handle, and that extensive damage will shock and disturb your local clinic physician whoi s fresh out of med school.”
~ this article appeared in dandyhorse issue one, summer 2008 ~
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