Injuries & Niggles
Injuries and niggles as riders is something that all of us will have to deal with at some point. Whether it’s returning from a broken bone or dealing with a niggling pain in your shoulder they can really hold us back both mentally and physically and slow our performance & riding down.
We all know that equestrian sports come with a high risk so it is inevitable that sometimes injuries will occur. Alot of riders due to being in physical pain get scared about training or exercising in case they make the problem worse & hurt themselves further. That’s completely understandable because if you’re already hurting you don’t want to create any more pain right?
Your body is a clever unit and if you are in pain your central nervous system will signal to your brain that something is up and tell your body to stop. For some of you that might have been when you’ve tried to do a local HIIT class and you found your back pain just got worse or maybe you hurt your shoulder pushing a lift in the gym or doing sitting trot in a lesson. This is when your alarm bells will be screaming at you to stop & rightly so!
Most physiotherapists or chiropractors will treat you remedially, to begin with & then give you a course of strengthening exercises to work on rehabilitating the injury or niggle long term. Often the answer is strengthening your structure and looking after the machine that is your body a little bit better than you currently are! We have to remember that many injuries occur due to our lifestyle & the things we do every day not neccesarily just from impact or falls.
There is lots you can do to get yourself stronger without causing more pain, it’s just having the confidence in knowing what you need to do and making sure you do that safely!
In my opinion as a coach, training and strength work is one of the best ways to move away from constant niggles and small injuries and bullet-proof your body. If you’re currently off with an injury, say a broken leg or arm it doesn’t mean that you can’t train!
I’ve had clients with rotator cuff injuries, ACL injuries and even broken legs but we still trained & stuck to a strength programme and worked on other areas to keep them as fit and strong during the injury period as possible. I know for all of these riders this hugely helped from a mental point of view too as it allowed them to still make progress even though they weren't able to ride! Trust me there’s a lot you can do with 1 arm or leg!
As long as you are sensible and listen to your body you can still train around an injury and continue to make progress. This can be a really good coping strategy as injuries can be very demotivating and for some even make you feel quite depressed and down.
So if you’re currently nursing an injury or trying to get into training but scared you’re going to make things worse how should you get yourself going?!
1-Identify your weaknesses
Most of the time injuries come from overuse or your body compensating for a lack of mobility or movement in another area. For example, a lot of riders who suffer with lower back pain will struggle with tightness and a lack of mobility in the hips.
As the hips are meant to be mobile, when they are not this then travels up the chain as your body tries to create movement somewhere else and what will happen is your lumbar spine creates that mobility that the hips should have when in fact the spine should be stable so you end up having too much movement in your lumbar area & this, in turn, causes pain.
Understanding where that pain is coming from & what is causing the lack or too much movement is essential! Many injuries also come down to the things we do every day like mucking out, lifting, cutting things, sitting at the laptop etc. Many of the tasks we do are very 1 sided so we need to be mindful of keeping ourselves as physically balanced as we can!
Once you know the cause of the issue you can then work on strengthening it. Working on your mobility and improving your range of motion should be the first thing you do once you’ve identified this weakness. If you lack mobility and then try to train and put your body into certain positions you run the risk of doing yourself an injury so figure out what the problem is first & then how to fix it before you go running into the gym!
2-Look after your body
Now, this sounds obvious but when I ask riders how often they stretch, do yoga, or go for a walk the answer is not very often.
Your body is your machine just the same as your horse's body is his. Let me ask you this;
If your horse had an injury or was carrying some soreness I would assume you’d have the physio out to him.
She would treat him and then you would work through some exercises and stretches to help him alleviate the tightness and then work on strengthening the weakness from there.
So that is exactly what you need to do for your own body and machine! Remember your body is like a car and if you don’t service it regularly you will break down at some point & often at the most inconvenient time!
These days there are so many things you can do to look after your body & give it some love. Regular stretching, using a foam roller, doing mobility with bands are all great ways of getting you moving, feeling more mobile & reducing pain. These will all help to improve your mobility and increase the range of motion your joints have which in the long run will mean you are less likely to pick up injuries.
If you do struggle with pain or niggles seeing a physio regularly or even having a sports massage every month can be a good way to keep yourself on the road!
3-Hold yourself to a few minutes every day not an hour once a week
It’s very true that change and results come from what we do most of the time not some of the time. We all know time is a luxury that we don’t have as riders but it’s really important even with a busy life that you don’t let your body fall by the wayside.
You have to make the things that are important to you a priority and that means making the time! If you really want to ride at your best then you will value your mobility, health and fitness and make the time to do things like stretching, getting to the physio, training or adding in some foam rolling.
Consistency is the absolute key here and something I drill into all of my clients. Even if you’re flat out busy you’re better at committing 10 minutes a day to a consistent mobility routine regularly throughout the week rather than trying to do an hour here or there and not be able to stick to it.
Think of this as putting fuel in your car, it literally takes five minutes but if you didn’t do it you’re not going to get anywhere. A little bit of maintenance goes a long way.
It doesn’t just apply to riding either, if you want to still be mobile when you're 70 and most of you I assume will still want to be riding then you really should put this time aside and make your movement a priority.
4-Get into a strength training programme
Strength and resistance-based training is the best way to bulletproof your body! Like I said earlier a lot of riders will have a scarcity of training when they have struggled with injuries and that is totally understandable.
When you’re fed up with spending every day in pain the last thing you want to do is make the problem worse. This is where investing your time and money into a coach to help educate you on the right things to be doing, how to move safely and effectively and have a programme that actually helps you to improve your strength and move away from pain & injuries over time is essential.
It’s imperative that you start slow, start from the bottom and learn the basic movement patterns and learn how to execute them with great form. When you understand how the exercise should feel and you engrain that mind muscle connection then you can start pushing on & applying progressive overload and getting stronger over time. Once you know how a certain exercise should feel or what the focus is that's going to give you the confidence to push harder & know what you're doing is right & safe.
The whole point of having a coach is to give you confidence and to give you the knowledge of what to do and how to train safely to return from injury but also how to adapt your programme around your niggles and what you need so you can stick to the programme consistently.
5-Listen to your body!
Now I know that sounds obvious but if you’re really honest with yourself do you always follow through on this?
I know injuries and niggles can be frustrating and when you’re fed up of feeling like that it’s easy to just think sod it and push past that pain barrier. In the long run, the only thing you’re going to do by pushing that barrier is hurt yourself worse and put yourself further back.
I know it’s frustrating but listen to your body and work with it not against it. If something is wrong or feels uncomfortable your body will tell you and especially when it comes to training or exercising if movement causes pain or hurts then maybe it’s because your skill isn’t quite there or you’re doing something a little off so you always need to listen to your body. Training should never cause pain!
From a training point of you if anything causes discomfort there’s always a substitute we can add in to achieve the same result without putting you in discomfort. Working through pain is not clever and don’t feel like you have to, a coach should always be able to give you options to do this!
I asked a few of my clients recently who’ve had injuries on my Facebook group how they got through the injury, rehab and are now back to full strength doing all the things they love and the number 1 response from all of them was seek professional help and listen to your body!
They were all in a place a few months ago where they were frustrated or tempted to push past the pain barrier but they didn’t. They listened, followed my advice, referred out to a professional, trained what they could and did their physio exercises religiously. Now they are all back training at 100% with full mobility and injury free!
Without a doubt injuries and pain is a real problem among riders and can stop many of us from taking action especially as we get older. It's not fun being sore but don’t let it be something that puts you off training or bettering yourself. As long as it’s done safely and correctly training and movement is the best solution to bullet-proofing your body and moving you away from pain and allowing you to enjoy things like riding again without hurting all of the time!
If you've got any questions about training safely & reducing pain feel free to message me! I hope this helps,