Groin Numbness and Bike Riding
Author: Richard Weil, MEd, CDE
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Bike riding is terrific aerobic exercise, a healthy and economical way to commute, and a great way to run errands, sightsee, and get around town. There is, however, a potential downside to biking; sitting on the bicycle seat may result in the compression of nerves and blood vessels 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 perineum can lead to nerve damage, swelling, artery insufficiency (lack of blood flow through the vessel), and even occlusion (blockage) of blood vessels, which in turn can lead to temporary or permanent groin numbness, tingling sensations, decreased penile blood supply, erectile dysfunction (impotence), decreased orgasm sensitivity, and pain. These cycling-related perineal symptoms are the subject of this article.
How common are cycling-related perineal symptoms?
- In a study of perineal
compression and blood flow to the penis in male cyclists, penile blood supply
decreased significantly in 70% of the 40 cyclists who participated in the study.
Numbness in the genital area was reported by 61% of the cyclists, and 19% of the
cyclists who rode their bikes more than 250 miles per week complained of
- In a study of 463 cyclists competing in a long-distance
cycling event (200 miles), perineal numbness during the ride was experienced by
31% of the cyclists and was associated with erectile dysfunction that lasted as
long as one week after the event.
- In a study called a meta-analysis (where
many studies on the same subject are summarized), results of 35 studies
conducted between 1981 and 2004 that examined the relationship between cycling
and erectile dysfunction showed that the prevalence of moderate to severe
erectile dysfunction in bicyclists was 4.2%, and that riding more than three hours
per week was a risk factor for developing this condition.
- In another
meta-analysis investigating perineal symptoms and cycling (62 articles),
numbness of the genitalia was reported in 50%-91% of all cyclists, and erectile
dysfunction was reported in 13%-24% of all cyclists.