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Nerve Damage From Bicycle Riding

by |
author image James Roland
James Roland started writing professionally in 1987. A former reporter and editor with the "Sarasota Herald-Tribune," he currently oversees such publications as the "Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor" and UCLA's "Healthy Years." Roland earned his Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Oregon.
Nerve Damage From Bicycle Riding
Bicyclist ride on a dirt road. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Nerve damage from bicycle riding makes for more than just a painful ride. It can lead to serious physical problems. It is important to understand what causes nerve damage when riding and how to address the problem. The nerve damage that results from bicycle riding is usually temporary. Your doctor will likely advise you to stop cycling until your symptoms have resolved. A study by doctors in Norway published in the April 1997 issue of "Acta Neurologica Scandinavica" found that symptoms can last from one week to eight months. A few simple fixes to your bicycle may be all it takes to resolve the issue and prevent further damage.

The Perineum

The perineum is in direct line for potential problems when you ride a bicycle. It is the area between your ischial tuberosities, the sit bones that contact the saddle. For men, it is located between the testicles and rectum. For women, it is located between the vagina and rectum. The perineum is the junction of major nerves and arteries. These nerves and arteries control the lower half of your body, including sexual function and urination.

The Problem

In placing all of your weight on a skinny bike saddle you are likely placing too much pressure on the perineum. As a result, you are compressing the nerves in the perineal area, chiefly the pudendal nerve. This can cause genital numbness, incontinence, prostate problems and sexual dysfunction. In fact, a study in the July 2010 issue of "The Journal of Sexual Medicine" found an association between cycling and sexual dysfunction for both male and female cyclists. Researchers, however, did not demonstrate a clear cause-and-effect relationship.

Sciatic Nerve

The sciatic nerve starts in the spine and runs down the back of each leg. It controls the muscles in the back of the knees and lower legs. Riding on a bike saddle that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve can leave your back and one or both of your legs numb or in pain. Testing different types of saddles can help you find a seat that is comfortable and does not strain your sciatic nerve.

Upper Body Nerves

While most of the concerns about nerves and muscles related to cycling have to do with the legs, you can experience discomfort due to strained nerves in the upper body, too. Usually, troubles in the neck and shoulders are related to poor positioning or posture while riding. Nerves in the wrist also can feel pressure when not in their optimal position. The wrists should be in line with the forearms as much as possible.

Help for Lower-Body Problems

Change your bike saddle to relieve pressure on your perineum while riding a bicycle. A study published in the September 2005 issue of "The Journal of Sexual Medicine" recommends using a special pressure-relieving saddle in a noseless or bullnose shape with a gel filling. Pressure-relieving saddles also come in a number of other shapes, such as crescent moons and two separate pads, one for each sit bone. Tilt your saddle forward slightly to increase pressure relief. Also, make sure your saddle is at the proper height. It should allow you to bend your leg slightly at the bottom of a pedal stroke.

Help for Upper-Body Problems

Focus on good posture and alignment. You should keep your back arched while riding and not let it sag between the hips and neck. Also, pay attention to how you grip the handlebars. According to longtime cycling journalist Sheldon Brown, if the wrists are bent upward as you hold the handlebars, you risk pinching the nerves in the wrists, leaving your hands numb and uncomfortable.

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