Get rid of lower back pain once & for all!
Every rider at some point in their life will have most probably experienced some degree of lower back pain & soreness and this is often a hot topic of discussion within the equestrian community. Pain can occur for many different reasons but you need to learn how to avoid it in the first place so you can ride pain-free. You ride for enjoyment as well as competitive success so if you are in pain all the time you most certainly won't enjoy your sport & this will affect your success.
Riding & an equestrian lifestyle increases your risk of back pain in the first place. Think of all the heavy lifting you do around the yard, mucking out, tacking up never mind your riding too. Sitting in the first place is not good for your back, the human body was designed to move and when we spend too much time in a seated position this puts pressure on our lumbar spine & the discs between our vertebrae, often referred to as a "bulging disc". When the horse moves your body has to absorb the forces of movement & speed of the movement from the horse. The muscles & joints that surround our pelvis & lumbar spine are responsible for absorbing these forces along with the acceleration & deceleration of the horse. The aim of the rider is to absorb these forces without interfering with the desired outcome of the horse's movement. For women our pelvis has to tilt forward slightly to allow the leg to fully extend in the stirrup, this puts the spine into extension and ends up with an increase in the arch of your back which can cause pain when your pelvis tries to absorb the horse's movement.
Ultimately there is one reason riders suffer from pain & 9 times out of 10 that is down to IMBALANCES.
Imbalances & the lack of an independent seat is the main cause for lower back pain amongst riders. The source of the pain can be down to a disc or joint but ultimately this is just the sight of the pain, the true source is the imbalance.
If a rider has a weakness in a muscle on one side compared to the other then the body will compensate for this movement and do so by using the spine and pelvic area. This will cause extra stress in a specific place (most usually the lower back as your pelvis is unable to absorb the force) & that will then lead to pain.
The majority of riders have a weakness in their glute medius muscle ( a deep muscle in the top of your butt which sits underneath the big glute max muscle). This muscle is responsible for the outward rotation of your thigh so when you ride is used for actions such as taking your leg behind the girth to ask for change. If one side is significantly weaker then you will compensate through your opposite leg and often by twisting & rotating through your back. This imbalance will ultimately overload one side of your spine significantly & not allow you to have an independent seat when riding which in turn affects all of your riding & movement on your horse leading to your horse being confused by your aids.
Addressing these imbalances & asymmetries can be the absolute key to reducing & solving the pain. Through a combination of strengthening, mobility, and possibly therapy techniques from a physiotherapist if required you can successfully manage your back pain.
Follow these 5 simple steps to start to help solve your lower back pain;
1; Improve your fitness, mobility & suppleness. The less fit you are the weaker your back muscles will be, the more you move the less frequent your back pain should be. Focus on using a mobility routine 2-3 times a week to get started & spend half of your day moving! Make sure you are hitting those 10,000 steps every day!
2; Strengthen your leg & pelvic area using banded & bodyweight exercises. Once you have built good form on the basic lower body exercises move onto single limb exercises so you can address the imbalance directly working each side independently.
3; Improve your core strength & stability so your other muscles you can work efficiently & your body is working as a whole unit as it was designed to be! Improving the strength of other muscles can hugely offload the pressure on your back.
4; Concentrate or film yourself riding. If you can feel soreness in your back but think you're not imbalanced then I would strongly suggest you film yourself or get someone to watch you. Often you may feel straight but this can be how your body has naturally adapted to your years of imbalance. Really focusing on how you are riding as well can make a big difference. Think about how much weight you are using in each leg, are you sitting straight, are your hands clenched? Next time you ride try to really think about what you're doing and see how it changes your horse's movement.
5; Spend at least 3 x week doing an off horse training session. Start with mobility and build your fitness into strengthening exercises as you go. It's time to work on yourself!
I hope this blog helps to dispel the myths of back pain amongst riders and shows you how with a structured fitness & strengthening routine you can improve your pains & soreness.