Horseback Riding With Back Pain

A back or herniated disc injury does not mean your passion for riding horses needs to end. Like any injury, a recovery time is required and it may be a lesson in patience, but there is no reason why you can’t eventually get back on a horse again.

After herniating my L4-L5 and L5-S1 discs causing severe sciatic pain, I was told surgery was my only hope and that there’d be many activities I wouldn’t be able to do again, horseback riding being one of them. I instead chose to heal myself naturally (using the exact techniques from, and within 16 months was I not only living life pain free, but I was also back on a horse. I was actually doing a lot of other activities pain free by this time also. The key for me though with horseback riding was making sure I had fully healed first, and not to take unnecessary chances.

After a disc injury your body will never be completely the same as it was before, and you will have to make some adaptations. Your body has sustained damage, and your goal should be to be the best YOU can be. Both during and after recovery, building up strong core muscles is one of the most important things you can do in order to protect yourself from re-injury. For anyone with a herniated disc injury, and even for people without injury, strong core muscles and core stability will protect your spine while on a horse. Exercising your core muscles needs to be an ongoing part of your lifestyle, not something you stop doing once the pain is gone. Even after a disc injury, a person who learns and gains good core stability and proper spine alignment can actually further strengthen their back and core stability by horseback riding.

In fact, more dangerous than the act of riding itself are the common but not often considered tossing and twisting motions involved in the care of your horse (putting on a saddle, carting feed, lifting the tail ramp of your truck, etc). An equal or even greater amount of attention to your back and core needs to be given to these activities.

As the repetitive jolting of riding can aggravate underlying back problems, it is important to always stretch before getting on your horse. While riding you should be wearing some sort of a back brace or lumbar support belt. Core Shorts are highly recommended. In terms of stirrups, the Herm Sprenger System 4 stirrups soften the impact on cartilage and ligaments, relieving tension in the hips, knees, ankles and calves, and thereby reducing referred pain and tension in the lower back. Choosing the right saddle can also make a big difference. If one saddle doesn’t feel right, try another. After the ride, a moist heating pad placed against your lower back may be the saving grace to healing.

Remember to start off slow and ease back into your horseback riding. Expecting to ride full gallop again immediately out of a disc injury is not only unrealistic but also foolish. Start off walking your horse for a few days. If no pain is present, work your way up to a light trot, and so on. Avoiding jumps would be recommended due to the sheer impact. Ease into posting, and only post if you are very comfortable doing do. Mis-timing a post can cause greater impact and compression of the spine.

Horseback riding can be a wonderful pastime, and the bond riders often share with their horses can be just as wonderful. This is not something that needs to end with the disc injury. In fact, as mentioned above, riding, when done properly and carefully, can actually be beneficial to your back. Be patient with yourself. Focus on your healing first, building up your core strength and stability. Then, get back out on the range. Ride On!

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