Back problems for riders and how to prevent them

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Why do so many riders suffer from back pain? Do we have to accept it as an inevitable consequence of the sport we love? Or are there logical steps to avoid or curb it that we should be taking, beyond gulping down ibuprofen and taking a hot bath?

Seven back problems that commonly affect riders

  • Musculoligamentous strain: injury of the lumbar spine’s soft tissue – the muscles, nerves, ligaments, tendons and blood vessels – commonly called back strain.

  • Slipped, herniated or prolapsed disc: when an injured or degenerated disc protrudes against adjacent nerve tissue.
  • Lumbar spondylosis: general wear and tear of the lower spine, resulting in narrowed spaces between the discs.
  • Spondylolysis: a stress fracture in the bony ring of the spinal column, which can lead to…
  • Spondylolisthesis: if the crack extends to allow one vertebra to slip over another.
  • Degenerative disc disease: a gradual wearing away of the gel-like, shock-absorbing discs.
  • Sciatica: pain caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve.

Top tips for a healthy back

  • Try to sweep or muck out with the broom/fork in alternate hands, to minimise asymmetrical activity.

  • Ask a qualified saddler for an assessment. Saddles are often bought to fit the horse, not the rider.
  • Try Pilates or Swiss ball exercises, as good core control will reduce pressure on the spine.
  • If back pain strikes, consult your GP and a chartered physiotherapist or a registered osteopath or chiropractor – preferably someone who specialises in backs and understands the biomechanics of riding.
  • Book regular treatments to maintain back health.
  • Strive to correct a young horse’s innate crookedness before you pick up some of your own.
  • Learn to use your lower back properly with plenty of lunge work.
  • Avoid a horse that is naturally “hard to sit to” if you have a history of back pain.

To read the full feature on back problems for riders see the current issue of H&H (10 May 2012)

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Originally published on horseandhound.co.uk