I think lower back pain is the single most inhibiting factor for horse riders. It certainly seems to be the most common problem horse riders suffer. It also seems to be a problem not well managed by the medical profession as far as horse riders are concerned. Every horse rider who has emailed me has been told to quit riding and find another sport.
I was told the same at 18 years old to never ride a horse again. I recovered and went on to ride at an international level, I still manage my lower back pain and live life as I want, not by a doctor’s standard.
The most common causes of low back pain are:
- Overuse of muscles, ligaments, and joints
- Repetitive movements
- lifting and twisting
- jarring eg. machinery
- the trauma of various kinds
Leg pain (nerve pain) can be caused by pressure from the disc, swelling, or inflammation of the joint.
When osteoarthritis affects the small joints in the spine, it can lead to back pain. Osteoarthritis in other joints, such as the hips, can cause you to limp or change the way you walk. This can also lead to back pain.
Spondylolisthesis is a defect that allows one vertebra to slide over another. Spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal, is usually caused by getting older. Fractures of the vertebrae are caused by a lot of force, such as from an auto or bicycle accident, a direct blow to the spine, or compressing the spine by falling onto the buttocks or head.
Lower Back Pain and Horse Riders
The most common injury in horse riders is a disc herniation or a disc prolapse. This comes from repetitive loading and vibration.
Although this injury is serious and very painful it does not mean the end of your riding career or your dreams, 95% of people suffer the same, and many recover to live normal lives. The disc is the shock-absorbing structure between the vertebrae. It is the cushion that allows us to bounce and jump and run and ride and absorb the impact through our bodies.
The disc is under pressure from all our activities in life, not just horse riding. Lifting, bending, twisting, coughing, sneezing, sitting, running riding, and many more life activities put the disc under pressure. The disc is damaged from these micro-repeated pressures and eventually bulges into the spinal space, this is called a disc herniation.
This often progresses to a disc prolapse, which is when the disc cracks and the pulpis (center structure) ooze out into the spinal space.
The level of the prolapse determines the symptoms presenting. The symptoms depend on the position the prolapse occurs, sometimes the nerves are involved and in others, they are not. In my case, it completely squashed the L5 nerve root and I had complete numbness and muscle weakness of that nerve root.
I was lucky I did not get leg pain I only had lower back pain and the tilted posture. The management of disc prolapse is determined by the level of the prolapse and the symptoms presenting. A person with a lot of pain needs to take pain medication prescribed by their doctor. Sometimes it is a matter of trial and error with drugs.
Treatment on the spine is useful for treating pain, muscle spasms, and joint movement. Everybody needs advice on posture, daily activities, and how to do what they do. The disc will heal over time and it needs to be protected as it does. The body recognizes the prolapse as a foreign body and the cells will slowly eat the prolapse away and the nerve root will recover to a point and the pain settles.
Management For a Disc Injury. Lower Back Pain and Horse Riders.
I prescribe a back brace to nearly all my back pain patients. Absolutely core exercises are started immediately and functional core training is started. Pain medication must be taken as necessary and heat is also very useful. Not everybody improves with heat, some respond to ice, so try both if you are not sure which is correct for you.
Avoid sitting for long periods and standing. Lifting, bending twisting, running, coughing, and sneezing all increase the disc pressure and increase pain.
Rest from loading is absolutely necessary. Rest from riding is necessary too. Rest is a word horse riders don’t like to hear and all ask how long. Well, it is just a fact it takes a split second to be injured and months to heal…a fact of life riders!!! We are all prepared to allow our horses to rest the maximum time required, so do the same for yourself.
As a physiotherapist, I also treat my back pain patients. I use acupuncture, mobilization, and of course advice on lifting work and exercises. A back brace or taping are also adjuncts to treatments.
Some patients need to be referred for a prescription of anti-inflammatory drugs, but many just take over-the-counter medications.
Controlling back spasms is primary. Time and knowledge are important. It is important to get your body back to a posture that it can heal in. Regaining muscle length, joint position, and flexibility and not aggravating it is important.
As far as returning to riding, the core strength and the jarring need to be managed. Lower Back pain stops the core working so overriding the mechanism is important. I teach my patients the core crunch and how to use the back brace to improve their core. I advise you to ride in a back brace and certainly have it on while around the horse yard.
To finish off, each person is different but the injury is the same. It affects your whole life, not just your riding. It is important to get and follow professional advice. I do allow my patients to ride early because riding is not bad for your back…putting the saddle, on, though, IS.
If you are returning to riding after an injury and want to follow my program then join my
Applied Posture Riding Membership Program
. Good luck and enjoy your riding