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Old 09-16-2007, 02:12 AM   #1
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Does anyone out there ride with back injuries?? Pain free?

Well, I miss my boy Rio. He has been at my mom's house since July, when I herniated one of my lumbar discs. I have been in physical therapy since then, and have gotten a lot of relief from that. The reason my mom is now caring for Rio is that I think that riding and horse care in general, if it did not CAUSE my disc herniation, it definitely aggravated it. It's not so much the actual riding that would give me pain (Rio has the smoothest gaits)..... it's the saddling (ouch! even a 15 pound saddle strains my back when I'm lifting it practically over my head and onto the back of my 16.2 hand gelding!), and especially picking Rio's feet. Ouch again!

So does anyone successfully ride and handle horses with this type of back injury?? I have a long history of chronic back pain, and have resigned myself to basically just living with a little bit of pain, but is there anything I can do when I 'm working with my horse to reduce the risk of further injuring myself?? I don't wanna hurt myself so bad or be in so much pain that I require surgery (i.e. spinal fusion).

I think these few months off of riding combined with the physical therapy has made my back and core muscles a lot stronger. But any advice from someone in a similar situation would be appreciated. I miss my boy; I wanna get him back to my house and start riding again!


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Old 09-16-2007, 04:22 AM   #2
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I severely injured my back in 1975 - that's 32 years ago, and ride and handle my horses without too much dificulty.

As bad as it may seem now, you can live normally and do just about anything with a bad back (excluding really serious problems, of course) if you learn what to do - and do it. You have to make certain things a habit you do automatically without thinking - much of it is putting yourself in the right state of mind.

First, and probably most important, you need to strengthen your abdominal muscles and keep them strong. Most back problems and injuries are actually due to weak abdominals. Your abs and your back muscles work synergistically to stabilize your spine. The problem is that most peoples' back muscles are much stronger than their slack bellied abs. When one muscle group is much stronger than the opposing muscle group it causes an imbalance and presto - injured back and/or back problems. The same mismatch of opposing muscle groups causes many problems in others areas too. Most rotator cuff injuries, for example, are actually because the front deltoids (shoulder muscles are in 3 groups) are far stronger than the rear deltoids, which causes an imbalance, inviting rotator cuff injury. Trust me on this - I am a former bodybuilder and a certified fitness trainer.

Second, you have to put yourself in a frame of mind to maintain good posture and use your back muscles properly. This is very difficult. You have to do it consciously 24/7 until it becomes a habit - second nature.

Third, when it comes to riding, you have to recognize just what is not a problem and what will cause back problems. Compression of your spine is not good if you have back problems. Thus, walking and cantering are usually not a problem, but trotting - posting or not - will cause spinal compression. If you have a bad back, you should avoid trotting. You also need to learn how to sit and posture properly when riding, and strengthen your thighs to lessen the weight you carry in your seat when you ride. You may already do these things, but others with back problems might benefit from this information.

As far as lifting the saddle, or any other lifting or stretching, once you are "rehabbed", if you strengthen your abs and learn to use your back properly, you will be surprised what you will be able to do. I have no problem lifting. But remember, if you don't keep your lower back muscles flexed and use your back properly, even lifting 5 pounds wrong can sprain your back, which will set you back about 2 weeks every time you do it.

Hope this helps some...
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Old 09-16-2007, 06:04 AM   #3
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Rumor has it that a gaited horse is a great mount for someone with back injuries because of the smoothness of the gait.. Might also be an option to look into..
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Old 09-16-2007, 06:11 AM   #4
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I have degerative disk disease, and although I still like to hop up on a big ole 17H hunter once in awhile, I could NOT continue doing it seven days a week.
In my opinion, gaited horses are the way to go! I'm especially fond of Iclelandics, but everyone has their favorites. The huge ( or small...) bonus with the Icelandics is their size! A 14.2H Ice can carry an average sized man all day, plus you don't have those huge feet to contend with!

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Old 09-16-2007, 06:36 AM   #5
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Boy Karen do I feel your pain, literally! I'm 38 yrs old and am a trauma ICU nurse in 2006 after catching a family member that passed out at the bedside and carrying them to a stretcher I herniated 3 cervical discs in my neck. As well as injuring my left SI joint (which is the joint that allows you to twist your torso from side to side) which has caused chronic lumbar spasms that have become a part of my life for the moment...Did I mention I also have degenerative changes in my neck as well but there is nothing I can do to change that.
That all being said, after 6 months of resting now I ride I did the physical therapy, epidural injections, lumbar and cervical facet injections (OUCH!!) and realized that I may never be the same as I was before but with regular STRETCHING exercises daily you would be pleasantly surprised at the results. I use the big exercise ball it's a wonderful tool! Face was 100% correct when he said we need strong abs as well!!!
Don't get me wrong I still have a few uncomfortable days and I don't ride when my body is asking me to rest.... it's a balance but one I will happily juggle to enjoy my horses. I started back slowly and agree the saddle was an issue so I went back to riding bareback, I mount with a block so I don't cause further injury to myself. I now can use the block to place my saddle as well. I use an english one it's light oh I'm also 4'11" and my gelding is 16H so height is an issue here too!
I realize everyone is different but my horses are so much a part of who I am that I can't imagine not riding.
I use to ride for 4-6 hour trail rides every weekend, well I didn't do that this summer it just seemed like it would be too much. But I did enjoy 1-2 hour rides instead. Perhaps next year I will try riding longer who knows, but at least I'm where I want to be riding....
I hope this helps you at least to know you are not alone. happy trails......

May you always be true to your best friend, today, tomorrow and always ....
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Old 09-16-2007, 06:55 AM   #6
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I know how you are feeling Karen. I herniated my L4 & L5 about 3 years ago. This was before I began riding. I have learned to manage the way I work and play and so far, have not had any recurrence. I have learned to listen to my body. Today after I did Clancy's feet, my back is a bit sore. I know that this means to watch what I do and move carefully for a day or so. I will ask my husband tgo pick his feet tomorrow. The real problem comes when I ignore what my body is telling me and keep doing whatever is agravating my back. You will learn to read thoses signals and that should help you avoid another herniated disc.

I ride pain free but I have never tried a ride longer than 1 hour. I don't know what would happen if I tried a longer ride. I haven't had the opportunity to try one yet.
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Old 09-16-2007, 07:14 AM   #7
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I will also chime in here, and not much to add with such great advice so far. I to have serious back issues that will only get worse as time goes on, and I second Faceman in that strengthening abs, thighs and legs is a trumendous help. Ride only those gaits that don't compress your spine if possible and listen to your body. And Karen&rio, believe it or not the spinal fusion actually helped me. I am fused c-4 thru c-6 and it has kept me from shifting. I do not ride alot but all the strenthening exercise allows me to be able to care for them daily and can handle them from the ground. Mrebele, the feet use to be hard for me as well, if possible try to utilize your thighs a little more and squat more instead of bending at the waste it does help relieve some of that pressure. Also may I suggest a lumbar support belt, it does helps especially if you have some lifting to do, as well as when you are riding.
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Old 09-16-2007, 07:27 AM   #8
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My husband has one herniated disc and two that are just ruptured but not herniated I believe is the way the doctor described it. He still rides and is a farrier. He does not like to ride a trot unless its really smooth.

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Old 09-16-2007, 06:27 PM   #9
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I had surgery to remove 2 herniated discs 2 years ago. I can't ride some gaited horses. Something about the side to side movement some of them have. But I can ride my western pleasure horses just fine at any gait. so, you will find that your comfort level will vary from horse to horse, not breed to breed.

I am able to stay pain free with a little Advil. But, my horse is only 15 hands. But, I use a lite weight saddle and my hubby does foot things.

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Old 09-16-2007, 07:42 PM   #10
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I fit in with this group. I herniated L4-5 and had surgery 1 year ago. I was back riding my horse within 2 weeks (just at a walk....okay, a little bit of trotting ) and felt great right after my surgery. I still get flare ups often because my disc L3-4 is bulging now. The horse I currently ride has a very smooth trot and my back actually feels better after I ride. It's like physical therapy for me. I have a lightweight saddle and I don't pick the hooves because that is too hard on my back.
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Old 09-16-2007, 07:46 PM   #11
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Thanks everyone, for your encouragement and tips to make living with my back pain easier, especially when it comes to handling and riding my horse.

Faceman, I really appreciate your sharing your experiences and what works..... I know that I really have to be committed to strengthening/stretching and just being mindful of what I'm doing to help minimize pain and the risk of further injury.

I think that Rio will stay at mom's a few more months to really make sure my back is getting better... like I mentioned, it's not really the actual riding that was ever really painful. It was saddling, picking feet, carrying stuff, etc.....
So I think I'll go visit Rio often (my mom is about 3 hrs. away); my mom can saddle and get his feet cleaned out, and then I can ride him! I do miss him though, and wish he was back living closer to me.
thanks again!

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Old 09-16-2007, 07:55 PM   #12
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I too, have neck and back problems. I have no curve in my neck ("military neck") so I have no "shock absorber" in my spine. I also have several bulging and compressed discs. I tried everything from physical therapy to nerve deadeners, pain meds, etc. The best relief I ever got was from a keneisioligist (sp?). They are like chiropractors, but stretch the muscles back to where they need to go instead of the bones... not all that cracking! Unfortunately, I moved from FL a year ago, and he is still in FL.
Up here in TN, I have found a holistic chiropractor that seems to be keeping things to wear I can at least ride. He said that some people's bodies are just not meant to do certain things every day, and I may have one of those bodies that just cannot ride everyday, and I need to just accept that. HA.
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Old 09-16-2007, 08:01 PM   #13
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I don't know for sure what my back problems are exactly . . . when I was a kid I got severe back pain that my doctor said was because I was overweight. Then in college, I did something stupid that caused my back to receive approximately 300lbs of pressure to the spine all at once. Ever since then, there's been a spot right along my spine about where my upper hips are that if you touch it, I will literally scream. (Unfortunately my ex boyfriend found it a couple of times.)

I've always assumed that was what they call a bulging disk or herniated disk, or somethingorother sticking out of my spine that shouldn't.

When I ride, it seems to loosen up those muscles and make the whole area feel better. Except as Face pointed out, when trotting. Not good.

Gaited horses and even mules are supposed to be better on the back than typical horses.
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Old 09-16-2007, 08:03 PM   #14
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Im sorry about your back. 2 things, strengthen abdominals. They directly support your back.

AND 2. Paso Finos,TWH, and Spotted Saddle horses. They are great for injured people and you can keep up with the cantering qh's and you dont even move not one bit!!!..They are very good for that. Alot of really older people very much enjoy these breeds. Im 34 and I love them!!!!!!!!
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Old 09-16-2007, 08:06 PM   #15
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You can use a lightweight synthetic western or English or aussie. I had 2 c sections and I had trouble lifting things for a while and the synthetic lightweights are much easier to handle. GOOD LUCK and keep us posted
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Old 09-16-2007, 10:42 PM   #16
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Add me to the L4-L5 party! I extruded both about, err, 5 years ago maybe? Severe herniations, I had a 30 curvature of my spine just from the muscle spasms.

I have just learned to listen to my back. When it twinges, I listen. When I'm riding and it gets sore, I stop.

Added to the back problems, I'm like a big lump of flab after battling a chronic illness and sitting on my butt for 3 years, so I have to be triple careful.

Picking hooves can really hurt!

eta: That was a big reason for my choosing a Wintec saddle- I didn't want to lift any more than I had to!
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Old 09-17-2007, 07:08 AM   #17
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I don't have any personal experience with this(and I count my lucky stars over that) But just wanted to say I know a number of people who have severe back problems and they find riding actually helps them feel better. I suppose it depends on just what the problem is. I wonder if you could ask your physical therapist about those exercise balls that you can sit on and could simulate the movement of riding to get back in shape for it. If you look into gaited horses they can be really nice, but some aren't that comfortable if they tend to be pacey. I just talking TWH here, I haven't ridden any others. I do find my mule extremely comfortable at any of her gaits. Especially rough terrain, it doesn't tend to throw you around as much as a horse. Good luck I hope you are feeling better soon.
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Old 09-17-2007, 12:12 PM   #18
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I will add my 0.02 as well.

I took a bad fall off my mare last fall and broke my vertebrae T11 and T12. Although the bones healed great I had a lot of soft tissue damage that to this day still aggravates me.

I did 6 weeks of physical therapy and that helped alot. Although I doubt I will ever be where I was I am now off pain meds and back to (most) of the activities I enjoy including riding. I can't always go as long as I used to and sitting the trot is killer (I almost always have to post) but I make it work.

I also talked to my PT about saddling as it also bothered my a lot.

Here were her tips:
1) Try to keep the saddle as close to you as possible. The farther out you hold a weight load the more strain it will put on your back.
2) Use your knees to lift and use the momentum to swing it up, don't just try to dry lift from your back
3) Unless you are very tall your horse's back is taller then you are so you are lifting a large weight above shoulder height which is hard on your back. Try standing on a hay stack or sturdy step stool so you are at or above your horse's back height. Less stress to your back. Of course this only works if you have a quiet horse that wont spook and knock you off

As for picking out feet, no solution I have ever found If my back is really bad I pass on the hoof pick to another person at my barn or just skip it for the ride. I know, I know that probably makes me a bad horsey mommy but sometimes the back just can't handle it.
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Old 09-17-2007, 12:39 PM   #19
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I have had hip and knee trouble for years. Of course I NEVER go to the Dr, I just dealt with it. Then a few years ago, my back got worse and worse til I couldnt stand up straight. I gave in and went to the chiropractor. I dont read xrays but saw my back and neck and even I could tell it didnt look good in a few places. I got to the chiropractor every week at least once. When I dont, I feel it. When I ride more , I also feel better. Keeping active is the best thing and strengthening everything that supports your back. I know alot of my problem is also lifting feed. I have worked in a feed store for over 8 yrs now, plus what I lift at home.
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Old 09-17-2007, 12:46 PM   #20
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Altho I haven't had any serious injuries to my back, I do have an abnormal curve in my lower back and it is causing more and more problems, and getting worse as I head for my 40s. I have found more relief for myself with regular visits to a GOOD chiropractor, and just keeping in shape with a weekly yoga thing and other exercises I do anyway. I agree with Faceman about the muscles and suuport. I also agree with what was said about riding helping your back (at a walk on a gentle horse anyway) and I would think gaited horses would be really good for that. I have known some horses with just some really smooth gaits that were quarter horses and such, too....
I would suggest perhaps a soft brace as well, while you ride?
And Arabgirl, you are NOT a bad horse mommy, let someone know and I am sure they would be glad to help - I would, anytime!! My husband helps me out on the feet alot (after I showed him how to do it he rather has a talent for it) since it is jus us and our horses.
Good luck with your back!

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