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Overcoming common cycling problems

By Shannon Sovndal, Dede Barry, and Michael Barry

If you exercise long enough, you will likely find yourself injured at some point. This section provides descriptions of common cycling injuries and information on how to prevent them and how to treat them when they occur. Having learned this information the hard way, we speak from experience so that you won’t have to endure the same problems!

Saddle Sores
Saddle sores are an issue that cyclists might not like to talk about. They occur commonly, so you’ll need to know not only how to decrease their likelihood, but also how to treat them if they occur. Your primary contact with the bicycle is at your crotch, and if you develop saddle sores or boils from uncleanliness, you will become a very unhappy cyclist. These sores usually develop from chaffing and irritation that allows bacteria to enter your sweat glands and hair follicles. As the infection takes hold, you develop a painful, inflamed, swollen sore at the point of contact with the seat. Ultimately the wound matures and begins to drain its contents. Do not attempt to pop the boil or sore by applying pressure to it. This causes the infection to spread to the surrounding tissue. To speed the wound to the point of drainage, apply a warm compress or sit in a warm bath several times a day. Once the wound starts to drain, apply an antibacterial ointment, such as Bacitracin or Neosporin. If you’re unlucky or don’t take care of your wounds, they may need surgical drainage. If the wound does not improve or if it gets bigger, visit your physician.

The best way to prevent saddle sores is to follow a strict hygiene routine. Clean your shorts with mild soap after every ride. Rinse them well because soap residue can cause skin irritation. Many cyclists use antibiotic chamois creams before each ride to soften the chamois and to reduce the likelihood of saddle sores. Don’t lounge around in your shorts after your ride. Remove them and clean your crotch with antibacterial soap and water. You’ll be happier if you can prevent this problem before it starts.

Road Rash
Although we hope it never happens, you will likely experience some degree of road rash during your cycling career. Road rash refers to abrasions and wounds that occur when you crash and your skin scrapes along the ground. The key issue in treating road rash is infection control. After you crash, you must thoroughly clean the wound. First, remove any large foreign materials, such as pebbles and sticks. It is best to clean a wound with aggressive irrigation. However, this may not work if asphalt and debris are stuck to the tissue, so you may have to gently scrub the wound with a soft sponge or brush. Contrary to popular belief, avoid hydrogen peroxide because it will damage the healthy skin at the margins of the wound. This surrounding skin promotes new healing and skin growth, so you don’t want to irritate it more than it already is.

For larger wounds, go to the emergency room. The medical staff will likely give you numbing cream before they start to clean, and this is usually worth the copay or treatment expense. The emergency staff will ensure that the wound is thoroughly cleaned. They can also teach you how to properly care for the wound once you leave. Once clean, you should place antibiotic ointment on the wound and cover it with a clean dressing. The best bandage option is an adherent dressing such as DuoDerm or 2nd Skin. You can also use a nonstick pad such as Adaptic and secure it with tape, OpSite, or Tegaderm. Although these bandages are more expensive than others, they are easy to apply and don’t hurt as much when you remove them.

Overuse Injuries
Many cyclists, the authors included, have a tendency to overtrain at times. That is why you must listen to your body and avoid straining it beyond its capabilities. We have recommended that you ease into a training program and gradually build up your time and intensity on the bike. If you find yourself with aches and pains after riding, take a break. A few easy or complete rest days are sometimes all the body needs to rejuvenate itself and avoid a major injury. As a general rule, apply ice to the area of discomfort for the first 48 hours. Wrap a bag of ice or a bag of frozen peas in a thin towel. Apply it to the injured area for 15 minutes out of every hour for the first two days. Don’t place the ice directly on your skin; this can cause localized skin damage and frostbite. An anti-inflammatory medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) will also help. Don’t use NSAIDS if you have a sensitive stomach or have a history of gastric bleeding or ulcers, as they can increase the incidence of gastrointestinal bleeding.

Positioning Problems
If you have aches in your neck, back, arms, or knees, you may have to reevaluate your position on the bike. If your seat is at the wrong height, your knees can pay the price. Knee pain is common among cyclists and can sometimes be alleviated by adjusting your seat height and position or switching from a fixed-position cleat-and-pedal system to a floating cleat-and-pedal system. Also, if you bend too far forward, your back, neck, and arms may become sore. If you have difficulty finding a position that alleviates your pain or injury, try getting a bike fit from a professional. Remember, whenever you change your position, you must ramp up your riding slowly so that your body can adjust to the changes.

This is an excerpt from Fitness Cycling.

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