Bicycling (South Africa) - - Front Page - BY SELENE YEAGER

LLET’S START BY DIS­MISS­ING THE ele­phant in the room: con­trary to what you may have heard from well-mean­ing friends and fam­ily mem­bers, cy­cling does not cause erec­tile dys­func­tion. In a study of more than 5 282 male cy­clists, rang­ing in age from 16 to 88, pub­lished in the July 2014 is­sue of the Jour­nal of Men’s Health, there was no con­nec­tion found be­tween cy­cling and erec­tile dys­func­tion (or even in­fer­til­ity), no mat­ter how many kilo­me­tres and/or hours the men logged each week – even among those crank­ing out more than 8.5 hours or 360 kilo­me­tres a week in the sad­dle. That, of course, is good news; but it’s not to say you’re 100 per cent im­mune from some prob­lems be­low the belt. These in­clude bouts of nerve dam­age, numb­ness, and other more su­per­fi­cial is­sues such as sad­dle sores, says Andy Pruitt, founder of the Univer­sity of Colorado Sports Medicine and Per­for­mance Cen­tre (formerly the Boul­der Cen­tre for Sports Medicine) and med­i­cal con­sul­tant to nu­mer­ous World Tour teams and riders. “Men have got bet­ter about un­der­stand­ing the im­por­tance of sad­dle se­lec­tion and fit,” he says. “But there’s still some work to do to make sure ev­ery­one gets the mes­sage about what is ac­cept­able dis­com­fort and what is not.” Here’s what to watch for, and how to keep ev­ery­thing safe and sound.

Gen­i­tal Numb­ness

It goes without say­ing that gen­i­tal numb­ness is never a good thing. Some riders can ride nearly any sad­dle all day and not ex­pe­ri­ence gen­i­tal numb­ness, be­cause their nerves and veins are buried un­der many lay­ers of tis­sue and aren’t af­fected. Oth­ers need to be more care­ful. The im­por­tant thing to re­alise is that no amount of numb­ness is okay, says Pruitt. “I’ll have guys say to me, ‘I only get numb af­ter four hours in the sad­dle.’ Or ‘I get a lit­tle numb, but it’s gone by morn­ing.’ That is not okay – numb­ness of any kind or du­ra­tion should not be tol­er­ated, pe­riod,” says Pruitt, be­cause it means nerves are be­ing com­pressed. And if your nerves are be­ing com­pressed, your hol­low struc­tures – a.k.a. the ar­ter­ies feed­ing blood into your pe­nis – are be­ing com­pressed too. Sure, they may all bounce back, so to speak, af­ter an hour or so; but you could be do­ing longterm dam­age if you ig­nore it. “Imag­ine tak­ing an elec­tri­cal cord and gar­den hose and driv­ing over them with your car, again and again and again,” says Pruitt. “They may re­bound ini­tially, but over time they’ll stay col­lapsed and won’t func­tion as well.” Same with your nerves and plumb­ing. Nerves will scar and be­come less ef­fi­cient. Veins and ar­ter­ies will col­lapse and scar in­ter­nally. “That’s why you’ll have a 40-year-old who’s fine; but then he turns 60, and he’s hav­ing prob­lems and won­der­ing what went wrong.” What went wrong was he was tol­er­at­ing numb­ness from an in­cor­rect sad­dle, an ill­fit­ted bike, or both. Sad­dles with grooves or cut-outs are well known to re­duce pres­sure on the per­ineum, but the size and shape of the sad­dle still needs to match your shape and phys­i­ol­ogy. And the sad­dle needs to be in the right spot.

Those Sad­dle Mis­takes

“The right sad­dle in the wrong place is as bad as the wrong sad­dle in the right place,” says Pruitt. You want the ma­jor­ity of your weight to be rest­ing on your is­chial

tuberosi­ties (the hard bones you feel when you sit down) or the pu­bic rami (the pelvic bones fur­ther for­ward), de­pend­ing on how ag­gres­sive and aero your po­si­tion is, and not on your per­ineum.

“Along with test­ing var­i­ous sad­dles, get a good, pro­fes­sional bike fit.” That means di­alling in your reach (be­ing too stretched out places pres­sure on soft tis­sues), your han­dle­bar height (both in and out of the drops), your sad­dle height, and fore and aft an­gle, as well as the shape and size of your sad­dle.

Sad­dle Sores

‘Sad­dle sore’ is a bucket term for ev­ery­thing from in­fected hair fol­li­cles (fol­li­culi­tis) to chaf­ing to open ul­cer­a­tions – all of which have the po­ten­tial to be quite painful. As with many sad­dle woes, the right sad­dle and proper bike fit can go a long way to­wards pre­vent­ing these mal­adies. Proper hy­giene also helps. Fur­ther preven­ta­tive steps in­clude:

1. Lubri­cate: Chamois cream is de­signed to re­duce fric­tion be­tween your skin and your shorts. You can rub some on the chamois it­self as well as your skin, for max­i­mum pro­tec­tion.

2. Man­scape: If and where you stop shav­ing your legs is a mat­ter of per­sonal pref­er­ence. But get too close to the ‘Speedo line’ and you open the door for sore ra­zor bumps, in­grown hairs, and in­fected fol­li­cles. If you’re prone to ra­zor burn and in­fected bumps, try ap­ply­ing a light layer of an­tibi­otic oint­ment such as Neosporin to the area af­ter shav­ing.

3. Add Lube: Guys with larger or close-set thighs may have is­sues with in­ner-thigh chaf­ing, as the sides of the sad­dle rubs that sen­si­tive skin raw. Triath­letes (who are very prone to chaf­ing, since they jump right on the bike soak­ing wet from the wa­ter) of­ten use anti-chaf­ing gels, which are specif­i­cally de­signed to pre­vent chaf­ing from skin rub­bing on skin or skin rub­bing on cloth­ing, by form­ing a silky pro­tec­tive sur­face on the skin.

4. Switch Chamois: Like sad­dles, chamois come in all shapes and sizes, and some may fit your be­hind bet­ter than oth­ers. You want a seam­less chamois that stays put and doesn’t ir­ri­tate your skin or cause hot spots when you ride. And never wear un­der­wear with bike shorts; they’re meant to be worn com­mando.

Tes­tic­u­lar Pain

Cy­cling shouldn’t be a pain in the fam­ily jew­els. As with numb­ness, if you feel sore­ness, a dull ache, or any sen­si­tiv­ity in your tes­ti­cles af­ter you ride (as­sum­ing of course you didn’t ac­tu­ally whack your­self on your top tube in some un­for­tu­nate mishap), then some­thing is wrong. And that some­thing is – you guessed it – an im­proper sad­dle choice, bike fit, or both.

You have a nerve called the pu­den­dal nerve that runs be­tween your gen­i­tals through your per­ineum to your anus. Com­press­ing that nerve can cause pain in the scro­tum, pe­nis and/or per­ineum. To avoid it, fol­low the same steps you would to pre­vent and al­le­vi­ate gen­i­tal numb­ness.

Prostate Prob­lems

The con­nec­tion be­tween cy­cling and prostate-spe­cific anti­gen (PSA) lev­els, which are of­ten used as a key test of pos­si­ble prostate prob­lems, is the sub­ject of

…no amount of numb­ness is okay.

much de­bate. It ap­pears that long-dis­tance cy­cling could tem­po­rar­ily el­e­vate PSA lev­els. In a study pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary 2013 in

PLOS One, re­searchers checked the PSA lev­els of 129 cy­clists par­tic­i­pat­ing in rides av­er­ag­ing 102km in length, both be­fore the ride and within five min­utes of when they fin­ished. Their lev­els rose by an av­er­age of 9.5 per cent – which led the re­searchers to rec­om­mend that men might want to avoid long rides be­fore their reg­u­larly sched­uled prostate ex­ams, so as to not get an ar­ti­fi­cially el­e­vated re­sult. But oth­er­wise, the study raised no cause for con­cern.

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