What Is a Saddle Sore, Exactly (And Do I Have One)?

How do I know if I have a saddle sore?

A saddle sore will look and feel like a pimple—a mound that hurts a bit if you press on it. “It may seem similar to an ingrown hair,” explains coach Peter Glassford.

Obviously, you’ll notice this in the “saddle contact area,” most often between your genitalia and your anus. “You’ll be more likely to get rashes or simple breakouts on your thighs or butt cheeks,” Glassford notes. “Saddle sores are from really abusing the tissue while riding and bacteria gets in there, and the best way to describe it is a big pimple.”

But not every little bump “down there” is a saddle sore. Still, the treatments remain largely the same, but knowing what you’re dealing with can point you in the right direction. 

A few of the other common issues include:

1. Ingrown hairs: Between the irritation of wearing tight-fitting, sweaty spandex and shaving (or waxing), ingrown hairs are a distinct possibility and may present similarly to a saddle sore. Treatment for this one is similar though, so even if you treat it the same way, it will heal.

2. Acne: You’ve likely dealt with acne on your face, but unfortunately, it can be even worse on your butt, and ultimately a saddle sore is just a really big pimple, but smaller breakouts are possible. For this, try an over-the-counter acne cream at night, and sleep either in the buff or in cotton panties to allow for a good amount of air flow.

3. Jock itch: Not just for guys anymore, unfortunately. This fungal infection (think athlete’s foot for your nether regions) presents in a few ways, and usually in a larger area than a single saddle sore would be. Visually, jock itch can range from dry, red, scaly skin to a whole lot of painful small bumps. It will usually be in “fold” areas, so if you have a rash right where your butt cheek meets your thigh, it might be jock itch, not just a pesky rash. Again, there are over-the-counter anti-fungals, but if the two-week treatment doesn’t clear it up, check with your doctor.

4. An allergy-induced rash: Maybe you’re allergic to your chamois cream, maybe you aren’t rinsing your shorts well enough after washing, or maybe you just need a few days off the bike. The best thing to do for a rash—before taking more extreme measures—is to take a cool shower, wash carefully, and give it some time to let it breath before assuming the worst. And double rinse your chamois next time you wash it!

5. Hives: You may have an allergy to something in your chamois, or just a weird allergic reaction in general. An anti-histamine should calm this down, but work on switching detergents or your chamois/chamois cream to see if you can keep it from happening again.

6. Friction rash: “A friction rash is more often on the thighs or buttocks and might remind you of a sunburn or heat rash: There won’t be much tactile difference as far as bumps, just the stinging discomfort of a rash,” says Glassford. “These are going to need different treatment then a saddle sore might need, and generally adding some medicated lotion will help.”

Of course, to prevent all of these issues, check out the chapters on proper chamois and saddle fit, as well as the one on post-ride care.

For more resources for happy riding, check out author and cycling coach Molly Hurford’s site at ConsummateAthlete.com for articles, podcasts, coaching, and tons more!