The greatest source of discomfort for cyclists is the nose of their bike seat pressing on nerves and soft tissues. For men, this pain brings the additional worry of impotence. Impotence is caused by nerve and artery damage. Exercising regularly helps to keep arteries healthy, so bicycling helps prevent impotence, as long as it does not damage the local arteries and nerves.
Recent studies show that three percent of regular male bicycle riders become impotent, and virtually all of them felt pain or numbness before the problem occurred. When a nerve is pinched or the blood supply is shut off to the penis, a man feels numb. Men who ride with conventional bicycle seats and do not feel numb are not likely to be at risk. If you feel no discomfort when you ride, keep on riding and stop worrying. If you feel numbness, get a new seat.
Half of the penis is inside the body and the main blood supply comes from the area just behind the scrotum and in front of the rectum. So bicycle seats that press on that area can cause impotence, while those that do not have a nose and have a widened area to hold your weight on your sitz bones should prevent the problem. Some entrepreneurs developed seats that have holes in the middle. Their theory is that if there is no pressure behind the scrotum, there will be no numbness. However, no good studies show that these seats prevent numbness and therefore prevent impotence, because the nose in front of the hole still exerts pressure on the nerves and arteries. They may make the problem worse because the pressure on an area increases as an area deceases. Making a hole in the middle decreases the surface area of the saddle and therefore increases the pressure on the arteries and nerves.
The best way to avoid pressure on the arteries that carry blood to the penis is to use a saddle without any nose. I use a rectangular-shaped seat with rounded edges in the front, called The Seat by Ergo. Similar designs are available from The Solution Bicycle Seat, Easyseat, Spongywonder and Spiderflex brands. The Seat is wide enough to allow me to put my weight on the sitz bones of my pelvis instead of my crotch. I never suffer numbness and don’t worry about impotence, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Racers need to have a bicycle seat nose between their legs to help control the bicycle with their legs, but if you have no need to ride with both hands off the handle bars at the same time, you should be able to use a nose-less seat. Nose-less seats force you to bend forward. To keep yourself from falling, you have to hold yourself up on your handlebars. This puts a lot of pressure on your shoulders arms and hands, so you must strengthen your upper body and change positions often.
Other tips for comfort in a bicycle seat include:
1) Avoid seats with excessive padding. The greater the padding, the deeper you sink into the saddle and the more likely you are to feel numbness.
2) Use gel saddles. They are not too hard and not too soft.
3) Never tilt the saddle nose upward. The seat should be level or angle downward slightly.
4) Set your handlebars higher so that you do not have to bend forward. The lower you bend, the greater the pressure on your perineum.
5) Ride a more upright position. However, this increases wind resistance and will slow you down.
6) Change positions often as you ride.
7) Wear thin padding in your pants. Most good bicycle pants come with form-fitted chamois padding.
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Dr. Gabe Mirkin has been a radio talk show host for 25 years and practicing physician for more than 40 years; he is board certified in four specialties, including sports medicine. Read or listen to hundreds of his fitness and health reports at http://www.DrMirkin.com
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