Can exercise help to reduce riding pains?
Most riders experience pain at some point in their riding life. If riding & horses are your career, then we all know being in physical pain can be seriously debilitating & is the last thing you need when you’re trying to do 100 things a day & keep your business running.
86% of riders who took part in a study done by Walton-on-the-Hill chiropractor clinic reported they suffered from back or neck pain. Of this 86%, 66% reported they suffered from lower back pain.
So as we know, pain is recurring in riders particularly lower back pain. It is common that riders tend to experience more pain than the general population & this can be for a number of factors. Riding is a very repetitive motion that puts the spine under considerable load as we go up & down in the saddle, unpredictable landings can mean we end up overloading the spine or landing in awkward positions & imbalances in riders can lead to postural issues which all can cause back problems & pain in the long term.
Jumping has been shown to lead to more pain as we have to adjust our seat position more in response to the horse's motion as he jumps. When jumping our legs need to take the majority of our weight & sometimes the back can compensate if our lower body isn’t strong enough or able to do this.
Imbalances or mobility restrictions can also cause pain as they can end up causing us to be uneven or one-sided both in & out the saddle. Horse riding is a dangerous sport & yes it is true that riders will most probably experience more pain, in particular back pain than the average Joe but is there anything we can do to help reduce this?
If you’ve ever been to the doctor with an ache or pain they’ve probably told you to take painkillers, drink lots of water, try to keep moving & don’t let your body seize up. Movement is often the best medicine. If your joints or muscles aren’t operating correctly or moving as they are designed to due to stiffness or immobility then another area of your body will compensate in order to create the desired movement.
For example, if your hip mobility is poor then your lumbar spine will end up compensating & your lower spine will have too much mobility where it should be stable, in order to create the movement that your hips are not able to.
For most riders, certain areas of the body will get overused & this can cause pain or soreness. This can be for a number of reasons most often the day-to-day, repetitive actions you take when working & riding. The neck, upper back, chest, hip, lower back & thighs are typically the muscles that get overworked in riders.
Adding in some foam rolling or stretching to these areas would hugely benefit you. Foam rolling is a self-massage technique, the rolling stimulates blood flow & helps decompress and relax stiff muscles. Regular foam rolling can help return muscles back to their natural position and release the tense trigger points that have built up over time in the fascia.
Working to increase your flexibility would also be of benefit, if you’re inflexible you may well be more likely to sustain an injury. For example if your hamstrings are tight, (they are tight in all riders!) then this will be pulling on your pelvis & could cause your pelvis to sit misaligned which could cause you lower back pain. Adding in some mobility drills & stretches to your hamstrings could help to start to regain your flexibility in this area & get the muscles & joints moving as they are meant to. Exercises loosens the joints so if you keep yourself moving you’ll find your body feels far less stiff & you're more comfortable!
Training & exercise releases a chemical hormone known as endorphins. Endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain & trigger a positive feeling in the body which can really help to reduce physical pain. Exercise is often prescribed in cases of chronic pain as it can help to reduce inflammation, create mobility without the need for additional meds or painkillers.
As we make our body stronger & more stable our whole structure will function more mechanically as it is designed to. As our strength increases & you strengthen those weaker muscles you should find that you become more comfortable & actions are far easier than before.
That is because you’ll be fitter & stronger so won’t have to put in so much effort or strain to create & generate movement & you’ll move more efficiently & effectively. Strong muscles & a strong physique are far less prone to injury than a weak body.
Improving your core strength & strengthening the right muscles will help to create a more stable spine which can help to reduce back pain as well. If your spine is too mobile then you’ll have unwanted movement & more movement than the spine is designed to create which could cause problems. The stronger all your muscles around your spine, torso & core are the more efficiently your spine will move.
Equestrianism is a dangerous & taxing sport & riders definitely are prone to more pain than those who don’t ride. If you have muscle imbalances or your body isn’t functioning quite as it should then you’ll probably find you do suffer from pain. If you ran marathons you’d train yourself to improve imbalances, strengthen weaknesses & make sure your body was functioning as best as it could & the same applies to riding as your sport.
If we all spent a little more time & focus on becoming slightly more self-aware of our own movement & pain both in & out of the saddle then we’d be in a far better position & our horses would be far comfier! Remember your movement & imbalances affect them too.
Most riders spend all their money, time & efforts on perfecting their horse's movement but exercise can help in so many ways to help reduce pain & it’s time riders start working on themselves to help do this & stop relying on painkillers or gimmicks to keep them injury-free & riding into their old age.
Get yourself moving, work on improving your weaknesses & make your body as strong as it can be. Trust me, you’ll feel far better for it & your horse will thank you