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Four Helpful Tips To Ride Out Back Pain

Authored by Dr. Thomas Schuler, MD, FACS, FAAOS. August 4, 2016

Grab your saddle, folks — equestrian events are starting soon at the 2016 Summer Olympics! Originally debuted in 1900 and featured in the last 25 Olympics, Equestrianism has a large international following with a rich history of athleticism and sportsmanship. Such athleticism certainly has its drawbacks, however, as many riders often complain of lower back pain due to new or old injuries, or from the jarring movements associated with the complicated jumps.

TWO COMMON REASONS A RIDER MAY EXPERIENCE BACK PAIN:

1. Structural Concerns

Many riders’ back problems can be traced back to structural issues that predispose them to back pain. It could be disc-related in which the discs within the spinal column become inflamed or rupture, leading to pain and immobility. Pain could also stem from abnormalities such as spondylolisthesis {slippage of the spine} or Bertolotti syndrome {abnormal fusing of the sacral bones}.

2. Postural Inefficiencies 

Equestrianism requires significant core strength to keep the body properly aligned with the movement of the horse. This allows the body to absorb the energy of the movement in the pelvis, rather than the lower back. If the pelvis is not moving properly to follow the motion of the horse, the energy must be absorbed somewhere higher – your lower back.  When your body is out of alignment, it must overcompensate from other muscle groups including hip flexors and inner thighs which causes further strain on the lower back.

FOUR TIPS TO RIDE OUT BACK PAIN

1. Core Strength
Develop abdominal and core muscles to help with balance, strength, and your back. A strong core will help the body absorb the energy of the movement for efficiently and keep the body aligned. Exercise abdominal and lower back muscles evenly to ensure coordination of the body as a whole.

2. Flexibility
Flexibility within all aspects of the body is a benefit to every individual, but especially a rider. Flexibility within the pelvis allows the body to better accommodate the movement of the horse, correctly distributing the energy. Work on flexibility in all areas of the body, but pay particular attention to the hamstrings.

3. Body Awareness
Riders that are in-tune with their bodies are quick to notice when something doesn’t feel right, and how to adjust accordingly. Exercises or activities including Pilates, yoga, and tai chi work to change movement habits and improve movement, balance, and release tension.

4. Improve Riding Technique
Proper riding technique helps to distribute energy to different parts of the body. Work with a riding coach that can ensure you are riding correctly and fix inefficiencies.

Sometimes back pain persists despite these best efforts, and is likely caused by one of aforementioned structural concerns. Non-operative and operative measures may be necessary in these situations. If this is the case, call to schedule an initial consultation with one of our spinal specialists today!

About The Author

Dr. Thomas Schuler, MD, FACS, FAAOS

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