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10th July 2020

Cycling associated genital problems & how to avoid them

Many of us have taken up cycling during the coronavirus pandemic. Fear of overcrowding on public transport & with less people travelling in to work, it has made cycling on normally busy roads far more pleasant and enjoyable with lots of us travelling further afield and exploring new areas.

But whether it’s cycling for transport, trying to keep fit or just keeping up with the kids, the act of cycling causes problems for both men and women with regard to their genitalia.  For female cyclists, the commonest problems are; chaffing, saddle sores, skin sensitivity and numbness, labial enlargement, vaginal irritation and infection (thrush and bacterial vaginosis), skin infections and urinary tract infections.

Sounds rather unpleasant, but rather than getting off the bike, Mrs Pradnya Pisal reveals the simple things that can be done to avoid these problems.

Ensuring your bike is fitted for YOU: before you even get on a bike, spending time making sure it is fitted correctly for your frame is one of the most important things you can do as this will prevent most problems.

The height and type of the seat is most important as the pressure needs to be distributed and transferred on to the ischial tuberosities (the ‘sit bones’ that takes the majority of the weight when sitting) rather than the labia.  And don’t forget the handlebars as you should not have to stretch too far forwards to reach them; sitting in a more upright position will also reduce pressure on the labia.

These simple adjustments will prevent pressure sores on the labia, skin sensitivity and loss of sensation and also enlargement of the labia.

Wear the right clothing:  In fact in cycling, what not to wear is just as important as what to wear; use the right padded cycle shorts but skip your underwear.  Always wash the shorts immediately and use a fresh pair each time you ride a bike. The padding will help to avoid pressure symptoms but also prevent vaginal and urinary tract infections through the washing.

Lubricate:  Use Vaseline or chamois cream to provide lubrication to the labia, groin and inner thighs to prevent chaffing and saddle sores.

Hydrate:  Drink plenty of water and empty the bladder without delaying too much. As well as the obvious hydration benefits this will prevent urinary tract infections.

Treat:  Use of a local antibiotic cream will prevent infections of the skin and labial sores.

Probiotics:  Taking regular probiotics can help to prevent vaginal infections and cranberry supplements (this is controversial) to prevent urinary tract infections

Some women already have asymmetrical or enlarged (hypertrophied) labia and this can be a problem as the skin problems are likely to be exacerbated in women. I have come across women with enlarged labia who have sought labioplasty (surgery to reduce the size of the labia) as the pressure causes intense pain during cycle rides so much so that they are unable to continue riding.

There are some reports that cycling can affect women’s sex life. In fact cycling like any other sport releases endorphins and elevates mood and hence is likely to improve sex life. But the problems mentioned above may indirectly make women want to avoid sex when they are suffering with symptoms down below.

Most importantly, cycling is an enjoyable low impact way to stay fit and healthy – enjoy getting on your bike!

Make an appointment

If you would like to book a consultation with Mrs Pradnya Pisal or any other member of the London Gynaecology team, please call 0207 10 11 700 or email [email protected]

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