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Cycling Basics: How to Avoid Bike Seat Numbness

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Bike riding is an excellent aerobic exercise which can help you to remain fit and healthy. However, when you ride for long hours, the ride can get a little bit tough on various areas of your body. This is especially true if you are not taking proper steps to protect yourself against the issues which can be caused by longer rides. Riding for a prolonged period of time is already difficult but things turn really out of control when you cannot feel your hands or legs. Bike seat numbness or numbness in hands or feet is an issue that a lot of cyclists face at some point or the other in their life. In this article, we are going to be recognizing the ways numbness can be dealt with.

What Causes Bike Seat Numbness

Prevent Bike Seat Numbness
Avoid Bike Seat Numbness

When you are sitting on the bicycle seat for a long period of time, it may result in the compression of blood vessels and nerves of the vulnerable area of the body called the perineum. The perineum is the area between the anus and the base of the penis in males and between the anus and the vagina in females; it contains both blood vessels and nerves.

Compression of the perineal area can lead to nerve damage, artery insufficiency (lack of blood flow through the vessel), swelling and at times occlusion (blockage) of blood vessels. This can, in turn, lead to temporary or permanent groin numbness, decreased penile blood supply, tingling sensations, erectile dysfunction (impotence), pain and decreased orgasm sensitivity. Also, remember that female cyclist are at just as much risk for genital numbness as male riders.

1. Proper Bike Fit

Bike seat numbness and other discomforts are often caused because of a poor bike fit. If your saddle is placed at the wrong angle or your handlebars aren't in the right position, you would notice that extra pressure is being put on certain areas in order to maintain the posture. Usually, your saddle angle must be between 0% to a maximum of -3%. Anything more than -3% can cause the hands the hands to go numb because of excessive pressure.

Researchers have also found out that if the long-distance cyclists kept the handlebar height lower than saddle height, there would be a lesser chance of numbness in the perineal area and thereby reduced chances of erectile dysfunction. This is because, in this setting, the rider is bent in a leaning position which can reduce vertical load on the perineum. However, this position might not be helpful for riders on hybrid bikes or for the recreational riders. You can also prevent numb toes from cycling saddle position.

2. Considering the Shoe Fit is Indispensable

There are high chances that your feet can get swollen up and feel pins and needles when cycling in feet. This is because of the increase in blood flow to the muscles. This is why; you wouldn’t want a shoe that fits too tightly. You need to ensure that there’s some space in the heel cup and the toe box. Again, if there's too much space in the shoe, your feet would be in constant tension to maintain a strong pedaling location in the shoe and this pressure can cause numbness.

Shoe Fit
Wear Suitable Shoes

Get a shoe that has multiple options for closure. If a shoe has just one closure, let’s say near the top of the foot, it would intensify pressure on a very small surface area instead of distributing it along the entire foot evenly.

While adjusting your shoes, make sure that you aren’t tightening the boa dials, the ratchets or the Velcro straps too much. If you do so, a lot of pressure could be transferred on top of the foot which could restrict movement while you are pedaling and hence lead to poor blood circulation. This could ultimately lead to bike seat numbness or a burning sensation. When you are trying on the shoes, some shoes are ought to be more comfortable than the others. Therefore, it is crucial that you try on at least 6-7 pairs to see which one suits you the best.

Also, remember that the height and the width of the shoe matters. For instance, people who have a higher arch, for them the shoes with a higher toe box height would work better. When you wear a shoe which fits properly, it would aid in preventing numb toes caused by pinching of the nerves near the ball of your foot or in the arch.

For more information on the right kind of shoes to wear, read: Road Cycling Shoes Buying Guide for Every Cyclist

3. Your Position on the Bike

Why do I get numb toes cycling? A very common cause of numbness in hands and feet, tingling, pain or groin numbness while cycling is the poor position on the bike. When you are bent whilst riding, an aggressive position of road bikes is already putting a lot of stress on the hips and back. A poor position could potentially increase stress on your feet and thereby lead to numbness. In case a nerve from the spinal canal becomes impinged, that could also lead to numb toes or foot pain while cycling.

Seat Position on Bike
Maintain Appropriate Seat Position

So, what can you do to fix that? Well, the best solution would be to be in a less aggressive position. Usually, the ideal position is when your seat is at an appropriate height, your waist and back is slightly bent, your knees are in the correct position and your elbows are slightly bent. If you need to, seeing a bike specialist would definitely help you. You could tell them about the areas that you usually experience numbness and pain in. Also, when you are going to be riding for longer hours, make sure that you are alternating between standing and sitting regularly.

This would aid in easing the stress on your lower back. Also, taking periodic breaks is a good idea if you are experiencing a lot of pain. When you are taking breaks, incorporate a few hamstrings and piriformis stretches. Excessive tightness in the muscles and inflexibility in these areas might lead to nerve impingement issues in the lower back.

4. Placement of the Cleats

Usually, the cleats are placed in such a way that it aligns the middle of the pedal spindle with the ball of the foot. But, where is the ball of the foot? Well, it is the padded portion on the sole of the foot which is aligned with the bony heads of the metatarsals. This is the exact region of the foot which remains on the ground while you are raising your heels off the floor in order to stand on your tiptoes.  

Cleat Placement
Place Your Cleats Carefully

Now try to move your cleat all the way towards the heel of the shoe so as to get the ball of your foot off of the pedal spindle pressure point. After the adjustment, the ball of your foot will be forward of the spindle. A lot of cyclists tend to change the placement of their cleats after they start feeling discomfort in their foot. Try adjusting it until you feel comfortable. This would aid in reducing the numbness in hands and feet, especially numb toes when cycling cleat position.

Preventing Bike Seat Numbness

These are the various ways in which you could avoid the numbness in hands and feet and soothe your aches and pains. 

  • Handlebar Gels and Tapes

It is the common conception of the people that cyclists use handlebar tapes as a decor item. However, what most people don’t know is the fact that the handlebar tape can help with bike seat numbness. These days, there are a lot of gels and tapes in the market which is designed so as to reduce the amount of vibration which your hands feel whilst you are riding a bike.

Tape on Handlebars
Use Tape On Your Handlebars

This means that this in some way would prevent your hands from going numb. The tape might get torn easily but then again they are fairly easy to get in the market. They are reasonably priced and you can replace it yourself as and when you wish to.

  • Get Cycling Gloves of Superior Quality

An excellent solution to bid goodbye to numbness in hands is getting superior quality bike gloves. The cycling gloves of good quality have a fair amount of padding so as to spread out the pressure on the hands and also fit really well. These gloves aid in protecting your hands while you are riding and hence ensures that they do not get numb while you are on the road. Other than that, the gloves would also offer a tad bit more grip so that your hands aren’t slippery or to be precise don’t slip off at a crucial moment.

When you are purchasing the gloves, you need to check if they fit you properly. This is because ill-fitting gloves can cause a lot of discomforts. While you are trying them at the store and feel that the gloves feel way too tight, they are not the ones for you. This is because the gloves are going to get tighter than that when you start using them. This is especially true when it washed a few times.

Other than wearing gloves, consider changing the position of your hands regularly so as to place pressure on the different area of the hands. While you are taking breaks, perform a few hand stretching exercises to get rid of any stiffness, pain or cycling numb fingers.

  • Orthotics might be the Solution

As mentioned above, changing the cleat position works well for some people. However, if you still feel bike seat numbness or pain, then getting orthotics might be the best solution. This is especially true if you have extremely low or high arches. Choosing the ideal orthotics is dependent on a lot of factors.

The way you move your feet while riding your bike or in simple words, the pedaling motion would be a determinant factor in deciding what orthotic would work the best for you. Consult a bike specialist who would be able to assess you properly and thereby suggest the best solution for you. If the case is severe, getting in touch with a podiatrist would be of great help.

  • Keep your Feet Dry

When you are riding your bike for a prolonged period of time wearing wet shoes or socks, it can cause numb toes days after cycling or foot sores. This can create a very uncomfortable situation for the cyclist. Of course, it is acceptable and understandable that this situation can be pretty tough to avoid during a race. But, while you are training yourself for the race, try to keep your feet as dry as you possibly can.

Dry Feet Prevent Numbness
Keep Feet Dry to Avoid Numbness

When you are riding on really hot days, there could be the problem of excessive sweating. This is when you can consider bringing an extra pair of socks. When it’s raining heavily, use a show cover. This would keep your feet dry and thereby help eliminate sores and numbness from happening. If you notice a sore, use an anti-fungal cream to treat it.

  • Try Dynamic Stretching

Before you undertake any kind of physical exercise be it running, cycling or anything else, dynamic stretching is essential. But, what is dynamic stretching? Well, dynamic stretching is a form of active movement which isn’t about holding a stretch but rather taking your body through ranges of motion which would prepare you better for your workout or sporting activity.

Try stretches like leg swings, leg crossovers, scorpion, frog walk-in, hamstring stretches and similar ones. While you are stretching your legs, pay equal attention to your arms in order to prevent numbness in hands. Particular focus must be placed on wrist exercises in order to ensure that your wrist is feeling loose and nice before you get riding.

If at any time during riding, your muscles start to feel stiff, you could run into problems. This could lead you to adjust your weight which could mean that you would be placing more pressure on your hands. So, dynamic stretching is the solution to make your muscles feel better before the ride.

Summing Up

The above-mentioned tips work well in dealing with bike seat numbness. There are a lot of symptoms which can lead to perineal numbness and numbness in hands and feet. As soon as you start experiencing numbness, begin to make adjustments to your riding style or to your bike. If the problem persists, consider seeing a professional.

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