How to: Treat saddle sores

Edited version of an article taken from Lovely Bicycle by Constance Winters. 

Saddle sores are one of those common, yet mysterious problems that cyclists love to discuss endlessly. Her we discuss what causes saddle sores, how to treat them, the best creams, shorts and saddles and other tips and advice.

saddle sores
The right saddle can help prevent saddle sores

 

This is embarrassing, but lately I’ve been getting what I think are saddle sores after long rides. How can I tell that is what they are? And do you have any advice for treating them?

What exactly is a saddle sore?

Part of the reason there is so much mystique and different advice out there, is that there is no single medical definition. But at least everyone agrees about their location.

Saddle sores appear on the crotch, where it comes in contact with the saddle. Popular spots include the uppermost inner thighs, the “taint,” and that transitional ridge where leg becomes bottom.

One opinion is that saddle sores are boils caused by abrasions. Another is that they are some special, horrible type of cyst that forms as a result of fluid buildup. But probably the most popular opinion is that they are infected hair follicles. It is very possible that in fact they can be any or all of these things, depending on the rider and cause – which also means that treatment and prevention methods might differ depending on what type it is.

Based on my own observations, the infected follicle theory makes the most sense, so that is what I am going with. And as it happens, I’ve discovered a fairly quick and simple way to get rid of them. Who knows, it might work for you.

How to treat saddle sores

  1. After a ride, shower as soon as possible, using non-perfumed soap
  2. Once the area is clean, you will need two ingredients; tea trea oil and vaseline. It’s important that the tea tree oil is just that, and not, say, a moisturiser containing it as an ingredient. Plain tea trea oil is now available in many mainstream pharmacies, so sourcing it shouldn’t be a problem.
  3. Using a cotton swab, apply tea tree oil to the affected areas – but be careful not to get it onto any mucus membranes, as that could hurt. Once it dries, follow up with vaseline. Repeat every few hours, washing the area before each re-application.
  4. While the sores heal, either stay off the bike, or ride a bike where the way your crotch contacts the saddle is sufficiently different.
  5. Wear breathable underwear made of natural fibres.

Using this method, any saddle sores I get, disappear within 2-3 days. For anything more serious I have no advice, as I’ve never experienced it myself. Needless to say, if your sores are not going away, consider seeing a doctor.

Preventing saddle sores

  1. Find a saddle and shorts that work for you. Check out our guide on how to choose a saddle.
  2. Increase distances gradually
  3. Use chamois cream to reduce friction
  4. Be sure to shower pre and post ride
  5. Always, always wear clean shorts.

However, this is not always sufficient.

Even the cleanest, most hygienic pair of shorts will turn into a bacterial cesspool after 10+ hours of riding. Even the most comfortable saddle can start to chafe eventually. And even if you start a ride squeaky clean, you will soon get filthy. That is to say, I don’t think there is a sure prevention method once you start doing long distances.

Some riders are just more prone to saddle sores than others and some situations such as hot weather are more likely to cause them. You just have to deal with it when you get them. Hopefully for most of you saddle sores are just an occasional nuisance and not a serious problem.

Liked this? Why not also read:

Avoiding injury – 10 tips for riding and training

Avoiding injury – 9 stretches for cyclists

Avoiding injury – you and your bike

 

  1. Kaye Hill

    I find Vaseline on its own does the trick for me, however, since I purchased a women’s specific saddle I have not had any (touch wood)

  2. Marj O.

    To anyone that has not used tea tree oil, please note that you may have an allergic reaction, similar to that from poison ivy. I would recommend trying it lightly if you are a first time user.

  3. BloomingCyclist

    i get (got) sores all the time from an ill fitting saddle. those i would consider boils. when it gets hot and i sweat a ton, i get them from friction/inflamed hair follicles.

    My treatment method includes tea tree oil for disinfecting, soaking in hot water twice day (preferably in the bath, but a washcloth works too), and maximum strength diaper rash cream to dry it out.

  4. Meg

    I had my very first saddle sore last year while doing a 9 day ride. Unfortunately I couldn’t change my saddle or not ride so I just had to put up with it. I used chamois cream when riding, showered as soon as I got into camp, wore baggy pants that had little contact with my skin, and used a mix of bettadine and paw paw as an ointment. I was able to spend a non riding day at the beach and I spent most of it soaking in the ocean ;-) it cleared up pretty quickly but I wouldn’t wish one on my worst enemy!

  5. Celia Boothman

    A week too late for me! But I used boiling water and tea tree as a compress, and then used compeed so I could keep riding!! Worked a treat.

  6. Felicity Hawksley

    I recommend the shower (or stick some dettol in a bath, also great for if you take a spill and get road rash), then sudocrem and stick some merino pants on, or just get into your pjs. Sudocrem is used for babies’ nappy rash for a reason …

  7. tanwenhaf

    I prefer to avoid petroleum based products like Vaseline and Sudocrem, but find the Calendula Nappy Rash Cream by Weleda soothing and effective.

    Commuting is probably one of the worst causes, I’ve recently taken to carrying a clean pair of shorts with me for the return journey. Extra washing is a pain in the bum (excuse the pun) for such little time spent in the saddle, but it’s worth it.

  8. Felix

    I just like to say a MASSIVE thank for this blog. After 15 year of cycling I’ve never had a real problem with saddle sores. However this week I have barely been able to sit on the bike with the pain. I used the Tea Tree oil and vaseline last night for the first time and the the issue is at least 50% better overnight, I’m total amazed.

    Thanks you for some brilliant advise. :)

  9. Rowena

    Also, if you’re not a waxer… Consider taking it all off! Much cleaner

  10. Katy

    My doc put me onto Conotrane cream from your pharmacy. I use it before a longer ride and after the ride I shower and reapply. It’s an antiseptic and it works very well.

  11. N-Dav

    Sudocrem! Great for healing

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