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Pelvic Dysfunction in Female Cyclists

Blog by Holly Tanner

A US study published in the International Society for Sexual Medicine last year reports on the available evidence linking cycling to female sexual dysfunction. In the article, some of the study results are summarized in the left column of the chart below. On the right side of the column, we can consider ideas about how to potentially address these issues.


Examples of Research Cited
Ideas for Addressing Potential for Harm
dropped handlebar position increases pressure on the perineum and can decrease genital sensation encourage cyclists to take breaks from dropped position, either by standing up or by moving out of drops temporarily
chronic trauma can cause clitoral injury encourage cyclists to wear appropriately padded clothing, to apply cooling to decrease inflammation, and to use quality shocks or move out of the saddle when going over rough roads/terrain when able
saddle loading differs between men and women women should consider specific fit for bike saddles
women have greater anterior pelvic tilt motion is pelvic motion on bike demonstrating adequate stability of pelvis or is there a lot of extra motion and rocking occurring?
lymphatics can be harmed from frequent infections and from groin compression patients should be instructed in positions of relief from compression and in self-lymphatic drainage
pressure in the perineal area is affected by saddle design, shape female cyclists with concerns about perineal health should work with a therapist or bike expert who is knowledgeable about a variety of products and fit issues
unilateral vulvar enlargement can occur from biomechanics factors therapists should evaluate vulvar area for size, swelling, and evidence of imbalances in the tissues from side to side, and evaluate bike fit and mechanics, encouraging women to create more symmetry of limb use
genital sensation is frequently affected in cyclists, indicating dysfunction in pudendal nerve therapists should evaluate female cyclists for sensory or motor loss, establishing a baseline for re-evaluation

Because women tend to be more comfortable in an upright position, the authors recommend that a recreational (more upright) versus a competitive (more aerodynamic and forward leaning) position may be helpful for women when appropriate. Although saddles with nose cut-outs and other adaptations such as gel padding in seats are discussed in the article, the authors caution against making any distinct recommendations due to the paucity of literature that is available. The paper concludes that more research is needed, and particularly for considering the varied populations of riders ranging from recreational to racing.

Within a pelvic rehabilitation setting, applying all orthopedic and specific pelvic rehabilitation skills is necessary for women cyclists who present with pelvic dysfunction. Because injury to the perineal area including the pudendal nerve can have negative impact on function such as bowel, bladder, or sexual health, skills in helping a patient heal from compressive or traumatic cycling injuries is very valuable. To learn more about pudendal nerve health and dysfunction, the Institute offers a 2-day course titled Pudendal Neuralgia Assessment, Treatment and Differentials: A Brain/Pain Approach. This course is offered next in Salt Lake City in April, so sign up soon!

Pelvic Dysfunction in Female Cyclists
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