08 July, 2011
Prostate Trouble and Bike Seats
Bicycle seats are not always comfortable, particularly if you are riding for hours at a time. Traditional bike seats feature an elongated portion, called the "nose," that can put pressure on the perineum, which lies over the prostate. The prolonged pressure from a bike seat may lead to numbness as well as health problems like infertility. Although cycling is not directly linked to prostate trouble, talk to your doctor if you ride frequently or experience prostate enlargement symptoms.
The prostate is a walnut-sized sex gland found exclusively in men. It surrounds the neck of the bladder and urethra, which carries urine from the bladder. Both muscular and glandular, it secretes an alkaline fluid that forms part of the seminal fluid, or fluid that carries sperm. Prostate enlargement, called benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, often occurs in older men and can produce urinary problems. Prostatitis, or inflammation of the prostate, can also lead to fertility concerns.
Sitting on a bike seat often presses on the perineum, which lies between the anus and the genitals. Underneath the perineum run important nerves for sexual and urinary functions; the pedundal nerves provide feedback for the external genitalia as well as the bladder and rectum. If you spend long hours on a traditional bike saddle, you may be putting an unhealthy amount of pressure on these nerves. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, bicycling can compress the perineum and may lead to impotence and other disorders. Fortunately, most manufacturers offer saddle options that can reduce the stress on your body and reduce your risks for prostate and infertility problems.
A March 2005 article in "European Urology" discusses the overuse injuries that can stem from long-term bicycling. The article states that, although cycling can be a healthy, beneficial sport, some injuries can occur to the urogenital system. Genitalia numbness was found to be most common, reported in 50 to 91 percent of the cyclists, followed by erectile dysfunction reported in 13 to 24 percent. Prostate enlargement is not one of the most common injuries, however; it was reported as one of the less frequently sustained injuries.
Recent studies have shown that cycling, even on a professional level, does not lead to elevations in prostate-specific antigen-a protein produced by the prostate gland. When this antigen is elevated, it can indicate prostate disorders like cancer. A study published in June 2003 in "Urology" tested 33 men before and after a 13-mile bicycle ride. The study found no significant difference in prostate-specific antigen levels. Another study, published in "Urology" in December 2009, compared professional cyclists to a control group of healthy males. Both groups had their prostate-specific antigen levels checked, as well as other hormone and uroflowmetric measurements. The cyclists were asked to complete a 300 km course, while controls did not. Aside from a decrease in testosterone levels post-ride, the study found no significant difference in prostate-specific antigen or uroflowmetric parameters.
Although studies do not link bicycling with specific prostate diseases, the pressure of traditional seats can create problems for both men and women. Fortunately, there are several types of seats that can help alleviate that pressure and prevent injury. Look for seats with a split saddle, or one with a space in the area that would normally press into the perineum. There are more extreme options like the "no-nose" bicycle seat, the moon seat and the easy seat that are geometrically different from a standard saddle. Consider getting your bike fit with a certified bike-fitting professional, who can adjust your bike so you feel less pressure on your perineum.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Infertility in Men
- "European Urology"; The vicious cycling: bicycling related urogenital disorders; Leibovitch I and Mor Y; March 2005
- "Urology"; Bicycle riding has no important impact on total and free prostate-specific antigen serum levels in older men; Luboldt HJ et al; June 2003
- Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images