Enjoy Cycling While Protecting Your Pelvic Floor Health

Whether you were inspired by the Olympics and Tour de France or just want to get back in shape, cycling doesn’t have to mean choosing between your fitness and pelvic health.

Cycling as a sport, exercise, or form of leisure and transportation has never been more accessible than it is today. 

With private bike ownership, bike-sharing and even electronic “e-bikes” gaining in popularity, it’s easier than ever to get where you’re going on two wheels. During the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. bike sales topped $4 billion, a 62% increase over 2019 numbers. Top stationary bike company, Peloton, also targeted at-home cyclists and doubled its sales during the pandemic.

Chicago is a cycling city on the rise, with 250 miles of bike lanes already implemented into the traffic grid and 13,000 bike racks across the city. If you were inspired by the Olympic cycling and triathlons, or perhaps the Tour de France, now is the perfect time to consider cycling as part of your fitness plan.

The health benefits of cycling are undeniable, delivering low-impact cardio that can scale to your time, location and fitness level. Typical results include:

  • Stronger legs, core muscles and back;
  • Increased cardiovascular performance and health;
  • Improved mental health with a reduction in anxiety and depression; 
  • Reduced risk of serious health conditions like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The major health knock on cycling has been its potentially negative effects on pelvic health. Rigorous training on a thin bicycle saddle (seat) can cause unwanted rubbing and prolonged pressure that leads to decreased blood flow.

In men, cycling has been linked to testicular pain, numbness, and infertility in extreme cases. In women, unchecked pelvic distress can lead to pain, incontinence and girdle distress. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms during or after your ride, consider making these important changes to your cycling regimen:

1. Adjust and/or Replace Your Bike Saddle

There is no gain with pelvic pain! If you are feeling targeted rubbing or numbness while on your bike, make incremental changes to tilt the front of the saddle down. Even a few degrees’ difference can make a major improvement to your health.

If the saddle that came with your bike isn’t the best fit, then consider a different option. Saddle innovation now includes wider models, gel covers, models that are split in the front to displace pressure, etc. You can try out different models by visiting your local bike shop – just ensure that they have a return policy before purchase.

Lastly, consider what exists between you and the saddle. For serious riding, limit the fabric to comfortable bike shorts or leggings that don’t have a central seam to sit on. Especially in hot weather, remember to use body glide or a similar product, shower after riding, and use a balm for skin irritation.

2. Be Proactive in Your Pelvic Health

Any muscle structure can fall into disrepair without regular maintenance, and pelvic dysfunction likely affects more than 20% of the population. The bad news: pain and discomfort are not normal. The good news: we can fix that!

Cycling is a good treatment for minor pelvic issues, as it helps build strength “down there.” For pelvic issues that are not caused by cycling, consider these strategies in your approach to workouts:

  • Return to cycling slowly, giving your body time to recover between sessions;
  • Warm-up slowly with light gears to keep the intensity low;
  • Cycle on flat ground – Chicago is great for its mild terrain!

Always consider cross-training to strengthen support muscles around those that are causing discomfort, including Kegels, squats, bridges, etc.

3. Hit the Road with Body Gears

At Body Gears, we have both women’s health and men’s health specialists who can assess and address pelvic problems with a wide range of physical therapy solutions. Each treatment and maintenance plan is tailored to you and your desired health outcomes.

Don’t be nervous! A typical pelvic health exam with our trained physical therapy team will include a comprehensive exam of the muscles and joints to determine the root cause of discomfort. This can include external or internal palpation of your muscles and tailbone, which will help shape the diagnosis and solution.

If you’re ready to ride but tired of the pain, Body Gears is here to help. Contact us today at one of our six Chicagoland Body Gears centers to learn more about how we can help you get back in a cycle of good health.

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