Horseback riding can become difficult for those suffering back pain. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent lower back pain caused by riding.
Unless you have a chronic back pain condition, your pain is likely caused by your riding post. Even on a gentle ride, the continuous rocking back and forth places presses on your pelvis and back that can only be properly grasped when posture is correct; these pressures and the pain they cause are increased in proportion to the intensity of your ride.
Anatomy of Proper Posture
The lumbar spine in the lower back naturally arches inward. Every structure of the back – the muscles and ligaments supporting the spine, the joints connecting vertebrae together and the cushioning disks between vertebrae – absorb pressures and shocks optimally when the lumbar arch is maintained.
When the spine is flexed (bent forward) or extended (bent backward), there is a change of force distribution through the structures of the back. When flexed, the erector spinae muscles and surrounding ligaments in the back are stretched while the abdominal flexors are tightened. The anterior sides (closer to the stomach) of the lumbar vertebrae move together together, placing pressure on the anterior part of discs that promotes herniation and nerve impingement as the disc is enlarged on the posterior side near the spinal nerves. Forces are not properly absorbed by the stretched muscles and ligaments, meaning they fall primarily on the compressed spinal discs. Lower back, hip and leg pain may result.
When the spine is extended, spinal joints are compressed as the posterior portion of vertebrae move closer together. The facet joints in the spine and the sacroiliac joints that connect the sacrum to the pelvis take the brunt of the forces applied to the body. This can cause joint pain. The muscles and ligaments of the lower back are compressed in this position as well, which can cause muscle fatigue, spasms and cramping.
Keeping a strong, balanced core muscle group will encourage proper posture while riding your horse.
On horseback, your posture should be upright. An imaginary line should connect your ear, shoulder, hip and ankle.
Riders who stoop over with the spine in a flexed position may do so for a sense of security and stability. Balance and strength exercises can make you more secure in an upright position and prevent the perceived need to stoop. Using shooter reins will also improve balance and stability.
If you ride with a hyperextended back, you may find that you tend to have your feet positioned away from your body's midline toward the horse's head. This may be a nervous reaction, locking the knees and acting as though you're putting the brakes on. Being aware of your foot position will help keep the rest of your body aligned. Shorter reins will help to keep your body from bending backward.
The type of saddle you use greatly impacts your posture. Ergonomic saddles are made of soft leather to cushion your buttocks and are designed to distribute your weight evenly on the horse's back, which benefits both you and your horse. The less hard you have to work to stay balanced, the less muscle strain you experience. The less concentrated your weight is on certain areas of the horse's back, the less strain he or she will experience. Ergonomic saddles may also have raised pommels and cantles (front and back sections of the seat). This helps secure your pelvis in its proper position.
Ergonomic saddles can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on what type you by and whether or not it is custom-fit to you and your horse. The type of investment you make should reflect the frequency with which you ride, the duration of your rides and the back pain you seek to prevent.
Body awareness, a strong core and ergonomic aides can all help prevent back pain while horseback riding. Address back pain early on to avoid the development of a chronic pain condition.