Back pain is something that affects most riders at some point during their riding lives. Understanding the cause of your lower back pain is the first step to identifying why you might be struggling & then looking for solutions to solve this problem. Lower back pain is very common amongst riders of all disciplines & levels so don’t worry if you feel like;
"It’s just me", it is certainly not!
*****IF YOU'RE CURRENTLY STRUGGLING WITH LOWER BACK PAIN CONSULT YOUR GP OR A REGISTERED PHYSIOTHERAPIST*****
There can be many reasons causing you to suffer from lower back pain. Lifestyle would be the first place to investigate & think if your lack of movement or mobility may be causing you issues?
Most of us spend alot more time than we are designed to sitting down. The human body is made to move-if you think of ancient times we would be out gathering food to survive now we sit on our arses on a horse, behind a laptop or in the lorry. Sitting causes your hip flexors & abdominals to end up in a shortened position as well as putting your spine through a large amount of spinal flexion. Too much time in this shortened position causes everything on the front of your body to tighten whilst leaving the back of your body weak & lengthened. Cue tight hips & abs!
Yes, this also applies if you ride for most of your day! You are still in a seated position.
Poor mobility can equally be causing you issues. The body is a kinetic chain from the floor up. Your feet should be stable, ankles mobile, knees stable, hips mobile, lumbar spine stable but if something is lacking mobility where it should be mobile & freely moving then this may cause another area of your body to compensate & try to create movement.
In riders, it is very common to have tight hips & poor mobility this then leads the lumbar spine to create too much movement & if you think about sitting in the saddle bouncing up & down on your lower spine. If you've not got stability through the lumbar spine then the movement & pain is only going to go one way. And that is upwards into your lower back.
Training incorrectly using poor form is a common cause of back pain. The first rule I uphold as a coach is to do no harm. You train to become stronger & better yourself so you must make sure you know how to execute exercises well with proper form & technique so you work the correct muscles & keep yourself safe.
Poor form could cause you to end up using the wrong muscles or putting yourself in compromised positions, when you then add load or resistance to the equation without efficient movement & technique you run the risk of an injury.
Egos can cause injuries here as well, if you’re training with weight you want to make sure you are progressively increasing the weight on the bar over time. If you just whack a load of extra weight on too fast too soon you’re going to find yourself in trouble. The same as increasing cardio distance or time; make sure it’s done progressively over time to give your body time to adapt & make sure you have the capacity & fitness to be able to handle this load & demand of work. Ignore what Karen is doing & focus on your own performance!
Things you do every day can hugely influence back pain as well. You probably carry your saddle on the same hip each day. If you’re a Mummy you’re constantly bending down picking up your baby from the floor or again holding him on one side. Equally the way we sit, walk & ride are all considerations & can impact our spinal health. Humans are never going to be 100% symmetrical but if you have one side that is constantly overworked or loaded in time this can cause you issues. This is where training off the horse is important so you can focus on your symmetry side to side & making sure each limb is working relatively even rather than overloading that dominant side.
Being overweight or carrying too much body fat is one of the biggest reasons for lower back pain & sadly this is still true amongst those who ride. The lumbar region of the spine (lower back) will have to take far more load than it should if you are carrying excess weight & when something takes more load than it is designed to it has to overperform & eventually it will break. This can easily happen with your back & it is important to understand that if you’re overweight you are putting your joints & body under far more strain & stress than they are intended to. The same goes for your horse.
Working to improve your range of motion & mobility in your thoracic region (mid-spine) of the spine & hips can help to alleviate the pain. Your chest muscles will be tight as well which can cause a lack of movement through the thoracic spine & in time you’ll find you have restricted movement through your spine, a tight upper back & your ribcage will end up compensating by thrusting forward to allow your back to go into hyperextension to achieve certain positions which in time will cause you more problems.
Think of a squat where you load yourself with weight on the back of you. If you lack the mobility through your back muscles & thoracic spine to keep your elbows back & locked down you’ll find that your body compensates elsewhere to achieve this movement. Your ribcage will compensate for the lack of spinal mobility so for you if you added a back squat in this would most definitely do you more harm than good.
This is why it is important to assess your own mobility before starting a training programme & selecting exercises that will help to improve your mobility & movement & are suitable for where you’re currently at & specific to you. Working within your capability is important.
Building core strength alongside strengthening your posterior chain (the back of your body) is important. Adding progressive overload slowly over time & increasing the complexity of the exercise when you are ready will build your body & help to get the back of you stronger. Remember the glutes are part of your core & powerhouse of your movement in the saddle so don’t neglect them in you’re training! If your abdominals are already tightened & short doing excessive crunches & sit-ups will only exacerbate your issues so picking suitable exercises is again key!
Having an understanding of how to have full control of your pelvis & ribcage & maintain a neutral spine especially during core work is absolutely key too. You must know how to brace effectively to keep your ribcage & hips locked down in the correct position & keep your back safe. If you can’t maintain contact with the floor doing core exercises then you’re just going to be targeting the wrong areas & doing more harm than good.
Something else to consider would be making sure that your saddle fits both you & your horse correctly. It should be something you consider as this can hugely change the way you sit & position of your hips & spine. If you ride multiple horses & are constantly changing saddles or equally riding in the same one you may find that a different horses movement changes your seat so it’s important that your saddle fits you properly as well as him & helps you to sit in the best position.
Sadly lower back pain is very common amongst riders & for most, it has a huge negative impact on your general quality of life as well. It doesn’t have to be like this & you can most definitely work to improve & strengthen your back. Identify what may be causing your issues or pain then focus on the above to start to get yourself stronger & away from pain.
It’s never too late to start, the worst thing you could do is do nothing! Neither your back nor your horse will thank you.
If you’re struggling with lower back pain feel free to book a 10-minute call with me here & I will happily chat through some pointers with you to help establish what is causing you problems & help to give you some direction on how to improve this.
I hope this helps,