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Friday, February 13, 2009

Cycling is a pain in the Butt

Hi Gary,
I’m a recreational cyclist in my 66th year. I’ve enjoyed excellent health and partake in regular exercise at a gym to maintain good fitness. Over the last 6 months or so I’ve been noting discomfort in my right hip/buttocks area that is in contact with the saddle seat after about 2 hours riding onward. It’s alleviated by raising out of the saddle or taking a rest but comes back quickly when I resume riding. It’s not a sharp pain but rather dull but certainly persistent and intense. It’s also alleviated but sitting noticeably off-centre on the saddle but I don’t want to cause other strains. I’m suspecting nerve irritation as it passes around the ischium. I also experience numbness on my skin on my outer thigh from knee-level to about mid-thigh. The numbness is long-lasting.

I’ve tried a gel-seat but the extra padding doesn’t make a noticeable difference. I’ve wondered whether to go wider (more padding) or narrower with the saddle. My current saddle is a WTB brand (Speed V). It’s relatively narrow with a moderate groove but I’ve seen narrower and bigger grooves.

Does this sound like a familiar cycling problem from your experience? Any suggestions about a solution? (I’ve made an appointment with my GP for a medical interpretation as well.)
This is a common problem that is most often seen in roadies and not often in mountain bikers. I have suffered this problem a number of times, the most recent while doing a long 2 hour road ride on my mountain bike before getting to the off road sections. Once off road, the problem alelviated.

Roadies tend to maintain a static body postion while a mountain biker is constantly shifting position and hence the clue as to the solutions. There is not a single solution; but a mix:
  • Ensure the seat is angled flat and then try slight tilt adjustments forward and back of just a few degrees. Also experiment with slight adjustments of the seat being slide back and forwards a few mm at a time. Try slight adjustments to the seat height. But this can get complex and be careful not to completely mess up your bike setup. Get help as follows...
  • Even if you have had your bike professionally set up to your body, go get this reviewed again, including adjustments to the handlebar stem and height and angle. Slight adjustments can make a world of difference to comfort and pedal power.
  • Fat, padded seats are a sure guarantee of a numb arse. The only pressure point on the bumb should be on the ischial tuberosities (bumb bones) and not the soft flesh. Use a hard, high quality road bike seat and wear high quality padded cycling shorts.
  • When riding, stand up on the pedals now and then and extend the body and hips. But take care of passing traffic, pot holes and not when leading a bunch please.
In addition to the above and of equal or greater importance. The most likely cause of the numbness and pain is spasm of the muslces about the hip. This can build over many years and is aggravated by the static roadie position and pressure on the bum.
  • Get my book on back pain and do the low back, gluteal and hip stretches before a ride and in the evening. You can also do them during a ride by stopping and having a quick lie down and stretch (get off the road first).
  • Get a once weekly deep tissue massage of both butt muscles, low back, the front, back and sides of the thighs by an experienced massage therapist. Get stuck into the really tight, painful parts. You should notice relief within 3 sessions.
  • Because of your age you might like to try a 8 week course of Co Q10, plus Active Elements 4.2 and 4.3 (3 per day of each with your meals). You should notice an improvement in power and endurance and less muscle pain and cramping.

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