An osteopath who specialises in rider posture has warned about an “epidemic” of young riders suffering from back pain.
Liz Launder, an equine and human consultant at Hartpury College Equine Therapy Centre, believes children are spending too much time in front of computers and televisions and therefore are weak and have poor posture. This can be detrimental to their riding and lead to back and joint problems.
Liz recently spoke to a group of 30 children from the Ledbury Hunt branch of the Pony Club and found more than 70% of them said they had back or joint pain. None of the children from the group, who were aged 12-15, were able to touch their toes.
“The average child these days exists in a computer society,” Liz told H&H.
“They sit badly, their core is weak and they are not exercising sufficiently.
“Poor posture is linked with a weak core and a weak core is linked with back pain.”
Pony Club instructor Angie Whittington told H&H that although she has not come across severe back problems she has noticed the effects of children leading increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
“The kids that I teach get so much more puffed out nowadays,” Angie said.
“It’s amazing the difference in the children from the end of the summer to the beginning.
They get so much fitter and you are able to ask them to do so much more.
“The issue is the kids do less and they are not as fit and therefore they don’t have core strength. It’s a chicken and egg situation.”
Back and neck pain specialist Andrew Ferguson told H&H that the issue is “shockingly common” across society as a whole – with up to 50% of teenagers complaining of back pain.
“It is to do with how children stand and sit in their day-to-day lives,” he said.
“Carrying heavy school bags and taking little exercise are big contributing factors. Even if more children walked to school it would decrease the levels of back pain we are seeing.”
Although Andrew thinks children taking part in any exercise is a positive thing he said that specific problems can arise from riding.
“When you are riding you are exercising sitting down. This means that you tend to get bunched up in front of your hips,” he said.
“This can in turn lead to pelvis and back problems. Riding instructors should be encouraging core stability.”
Source of the problem
Although children complain of back pain, the cause of the problem can be elsewhere.
Human performance coach Jon Pitts told H&H that a lot of riders of all ages suffer from shortened hamstrings from the position and use of their leg when in the saddle.
“The riding position is not something that we are anatomically designed to do,” said Jon.
“Most back pain is actually caused by tight hamstrings. If people were to stretch their hamstrings it would decrease the number of problems with back pain.”
The way forward
Liz Launder believes that a variety of exercise and greater focus on posture is the key to improving children’s well-being and riding.
“Whether it is walking down the road or even going to the loo you can be thinking about your posture all the time,” said Liz.
“Children shouldn’t just sit in front of a computer and then get on and ride. You need to do multi-discipline exercise to use your body properly.
“This issue needs to be highlighted otherwise our children are heading towards early osteoporosis.”