Cycling injuries: labial and vaginal conditions
Many women have taken up cycling during the pandemic and perhaps will decide to continue cycling as a way of travelling into work when lockdown restrictions ease and as we return to the ‘new normal’.
Our consultant Gynaecologist, Mrs Pradnya Pisal, spoke with Cycling News to outline the various ways long hours cycling can affect our most delicate parts.
Diagnosing labial and vaginal conditions:
The skin around the genital area and the groin/medium part of the thigh may experience chafing caused by a mixture of contact friction, sweat and the fabric of your cycling clothes. The superficial layer of the skin is abraded and causes that area to be sensitive and painful.
“If chafing is ignored, it can turn into open sores due to the damage of the top layer of the skin.
Skin sensitivity and numbness
“Sitting on a saddle for a long time can cause sensitivity or numbness of the labia and perineal area. The pressure on the skin affects the nerve endings, and this repeated pressure on the nerve endings [can cause tingling and sensitivity]. Over a period of time that sensitivity and tingling sensation will turn to numbness, so there is almost a loss of the superficial nerve endings in that area of the skin.”
Pressure on a woman’s vulva can cause the labia to become swollen and appear bigger. Some women already have asymmetrical or enlarged (hypertrophied) labia and this can exacerbate the issues listed above. I have come across women with enlarged labia who have sought labiaplasty (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.
Vaginal irritation and infection (thrush and bacterial vaginosis)
Thrush is a very common vaginal infection, caused by an overgrowth of yeasts which live normally in the bowel and may be present in other parts of the body, such as the mouth, skin and vagina. Thrush occurs when the good bacteria in the vagina can’t keep the fungus under control, creating a suitable environment for the overgrowth of this fungus. When cycling, there is a lot of perspiration and so the sweat collects in that area of the skin and any stagnation of sweat over a surface is likely to result in growth of fungus. The advice is to not linger in your clothes after a bike ride and to wash them immediately, so not to allow the yeast to grow.
Urinary tract infections (UTI)
A UTI is an infection of your bladder, so you may feel the sudden urge to pee and experience pain or a stinging sensation when peeing. These usually are caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract. Using the right padded cycle shorts without underwear is important. Always wash the shorts immediately and use a fresh pair each time you ride a bike. Cycling shorts will get damp with sweat with little ventilation and rubbed up against your body is a breeding ground for bacteria. Also dehydration or going on long bike rides without emptying the bladder quick enough can cause this so ensure you drink plenty of water and empty the bladder without delaying too much, to help flush bacteria out and prevent urinary tract infections. This will help to avoid pressure symptoms but also prevent vaginal and urinary tract infections.
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