Riding a bike is great exercise for older adults—until that first twinge of bike saddle pain!
During the pandemic, biking has provided a welcomed way for people of all ages to stay active. When seasonal changes like flowers or leaves offer a beautiful backdrop for your ride, your bicycle can glide you along a pathway of paradise and help you deal with stress. Riding a bike takes you outdoors, works your entire lower body and gets your heart pumping when you go uphill or put on a little speed. It’s a good mode of transportation as well, adding to neither your carbon footprint nor your city’s traffic gridlock.
But then your butt starts to hurt with bike saddle pain.
Don’t let saddle soreness keep you off your bike or force you to stand up for the whole ride! Even though we sit a lot, we still can experience bike saddle pain from sitting on a bicycle. The two contributing factors are that you’re sitting on a saddle, not a chair, and you’re moving your legs.
A study identified the most common saddle-related medical complaint to be painful pubic bones, with or without chaffing or numbness. Other complaints included severe chaffing, saddle sores on the skin, and back pain.
Shop the saddle
The saddle you choose is critical, and it may take some trial and error to find the best fit for your individual body and avoid bike saddle pain. Although there are valid generalizations about men’s bodies vs. women’s bodies, really everyone has a unique build.
Consider 4 saddle features:
- Width. You may think a narrow racing seat looks cool, but you’ll probably need to go wider as you age.
- Softness. A little padding helps.
- Shape. The latest saddles have cutouts that you can test to see whether they’re comfortable for you.
- Position. Experiment both with the tilt of the seat and precisely where you sit on it.
Watch your movement
Cyclists are at risk for bike saddle pain caused by “piriformis syndrome” which, typically, shoots pain into the middle of one side of the buttocks. You’ll find your piriformis muscle behind your hip joint, helping you to rotate your hips. Runners and rowers also experience this. Piriformis syndrome can result from either tightness caused by too much sitting or overuse from too much movement. Ironically, in cycling you’re experiencing these opposite actions simultaneously.
If cycling causes you pain in that area and it’s not the piriformis muscle, the problem may lie with the sciatic nerve, which the piriformis muscle crosses. Sciatica usually involves a spinal issue and causes pain centralized in the lower back rather than the buttocks.
Physical therapy exercises to guard against bike saddle pain
Building your “core” is essential for cyclists. Strong core muscles will help you keep pressure off your lower back. Your physical therapist at Heather Lane PT can work with you to develop an appropriate regimen of core work.
Your PT also will likely recommend exercises that strengthen the gluteal muscles. To supplement your PT program, you can look for yoga classes that include movements to firm the glutes.
More ideas to prevent or cure saddle soreness
- Double up on the saddle padding by packing some padding into your clothing. They’re called “bike shorts” for a reason!
- A lot of cyclists apply chamois cream directly to their skin, especially to prepare for a longer ride. The cream reduces friction, thus preventing bike saddle pain caused by chafing. An antibacterial formula will further guard against infection from active sores.
- Build up gradually. That’s the best way to approach any new physical activity. Take short rides first and build up to longer rides. Try to cycle on flat ground before you begin tackling hills.
You’re never too old to start cycling!