Diabetic Socks, Diabetic Shoes, Diabetic…Bicycle Seat?

OK, this week’s blog entry needs a disclaimer: what I’m about to talk about and suggest is based on my own experience, with a bit of informed speculation about why it might make scientific/medical sense. However, I have found no scholarly articles about the very specific suggestion I’ll be making here. I have found several sources pointing to why I might have a point, but none that come right out and say what it is I’m saying. Nonetheless, I think I might have some helpful advice for some of you here, and so I offer it up to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

I’ve been riding my bike a LOT lately, and I love it. I’ve always struggled to maintain an exercise routine, but I think I’ve finally found the mode of physical activity that suits me. You see, I’ve always struggled to exercise when it had to be its own activity with no utility attached to it. Going to the gym always felt like time I could be writing, or practicing music, or cleaning the house, or any number of other productive activities. Of course, half the time I’m just watching on-demand TV when I’m home and could easily be going to the gym. But the point is, the gym has always FELT like it’s robbing me of productive time I’d rather spend elsewhere, and so it’s been hard to keep it going. But I can bike to work four days a week and make my exercise functional. It’s about a 20-mile round trip, with a few hills for good measure. It is a great workout for me — about 45 minutes from home to work, and about 35 from work to home (all the uphill grades are on the way TO work, which adds some time), and it has been great for me physically!

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When I first started biking, however, I had some trouble. To be more specific than I want to be but will be for the sake of being helpful, I was finding that biking on a traditional seat was leading to some bladder symptoms. I wasn’t having anything severe, but I had what basically felt like BPH (enlarged prostate) symptoms — having a frequent urge to urinate, and then trouble actually fully emptying when I did go. I went to urologist, who did not find any enlargement in the prostate or other issues. He did tell me, however, that for some folks bike seats can irritate the prostate and cause these kinds of symptoms and that perhaps I should lay off the bike. I did lay off the bike, and those symptoms cleared up. But I really missed biking, and so I started researching online for some solutions.

There is a great deal of research out there that does point to issues caused by traditional bicycle seats. And one of the biggest problems with traditional bicycle seats is that the horn of the seat puts a great deal of pressure on the perineal soft tissue area, which can lead to pressure against the prostate (which sits above this area), and also compress the pudendal nerve, which runs through this perineal region. The pudendal nerve carries feeling to the genitalia in both men and women, and also has a role in regulating the external urethral sphincter, which is tied to voiding the bladder successfully.

You can find much more detailed information on all this with a search online, but for now let’s just summarize with this: the horn puts pressure on the prostate, and it compresses the pudendal nerve. People with diabetes are already more likely to have issues with BPH (though the cause is not entirely clear) and more likely to experience issues with the bladder, AND people with diabetes are more likely to have issues with nerve damage (neuropathy). Given the fact that traditional bike seats irritate the prostate and compress a major nerve pathway (a major nerve pathway that has a direct role in bladder regulation!), it seems like a valid conclusion that perhaps those of us with diabetes should find an alternative style of seat that avoids these potential issues. Again, this conclusion is simply my own, but I think there’s some decent research that led me to this idea.

Enter the noseless bicycle seat! As I said, after riding my traditional seat sent me to a urologist, I decided to try out a noseless saddle. There are a number of companies that make such seats, including ISM (which I went with), Hobson, Schwinn, and others, and it’s a matter of personal preference which one you choose. In any event, after switching to a noseless seat, I found those symptoms fading, and I was able to resume riding! For me, switching to a noseless seat saved biking, and that’s no small thing! This isn’t universally the case — some folks have no issue with traditional seats, but for us Diabetians, I can’t help but think going with a noseless seat is a good idea, whether or not you’re experiencing issues. If you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time on the bike, it can’t hurt (and in my case, it proved to help…a LOT)!

Want to learn more about cycling with diabetes? Read “Biking 101.”