My name is Antonia Oakes and I am a fully qualified Human and Veterinary Chiropractor based in Cheshire. I am currently working with many top international athletes from different sports, however, after being brought up around horses and spent a childhood competing, I have grown a particular interest in treating both riders and horses. This article will focus on a chiropractic perspective to treating horse riders.
Common injuries and muscle imbalances
I’m often asked what the most common injuries are that riders present with, and the truth is it can vary week to week, but I am finding a lot of riders suffer a history of dislocated or injured shoulders, which seem to ‘flare’ intermittently – affecting a rider’s position or comfort.
When approaching treatment, I take a holistic approach using a range of Chiropractic and Soft-tissue techniques including; Adjustments, Dry needling (known as Medical Acupuncture), Myofascial release techniques, Instrument Assisted Tools and Rock Taping. From rider to rider, there is usually a similar pattern of muscle imbalances, therefore it is important to assess each of these muscles individually during treatment as well as performing spinal and extremity adjustments.
Averagely, many riders have a combination of tight and/or weak sternocleidomastoids (SCM’s), pectoral muscles and upper/middle/lower trapezius (traps) in their upper body, and tight adductors and hip flexors in their lower body. A dysfunction in these muscles will cause an overall unbalanced effect on the rider, which is highly likely to influence the effectiveness of our aids and thus the way the horse will go.
How each of these individual or muscle groups can cause an unbalanced effect.
SCM:a muscle found at the anterior (front) side of the neck which when hypertonic (tight), can encourage an anterior head carriage, meaning riders bring their head and necks forward allowing the chin to ‘jut’ forward, often meaning we look down, rather than forwards through the horses’ ears.
Pectorals: A tightness in the pecs can encourage rounding forward of the shoulders, giving riders a ‘hunch back appearance’.
Trapezius:A dysfunction in the traps can allow the shoulders to rise, sometimes causing riders shoulders to be unlevel, which is highly likely to cause uneven contact through the reins.
Hip flexors:Almost every rider will have a tightness of the hip flexors. Although we hear about these muscles often, the knock -on effect can contribute hugely to a rider’s equilibrium. A dysfunction in this muscle group can lead to riders leaning back/arching their lower backs / unable to sit tall and straight up and often contributes hugely to lower back pain.
Adductors:These muscles are found on the inside of the thigh and are used to bring the thighs closer together allowing riders grip to the saddle for stability. Because they are contracting most the time when riding – a lot of riders will have an imbalance to these muscles, weakening their stability.
Posture when riding.
It is important to remember each rider will be different and the above muscles are a highlight of the common muscle imbalances.
A combination of joint dysfunctions, a weak core and hypertonic (too active)/ hypotonic (underactive) muscle imbalances can lead to riders compensating by;
- Tilting forward/looking down
- Rounding of the shoulders, giving a ‘hunch back’ appearance
- Un-levelling of the shoulders or hips
- Leaning back, especially if the core is weak or fatigued
- Arching of the lower back to try and sit up straight
How to look after body when riding
Ultimately a horse and rider are a team. If one is suffering muscle imbalances or their joints are unable to function optimally – they will have a knock-on effect to their team mate. In many cases it is a good idea for both horse and rider to be treated at a similar time to allow both bodies to restore full movement and suppleness.
Looking at the most elite riders, recently, there is a positive movement in riders realising the importance of their own musculoskeletal system, not just the horses.
Personally, there is still a gap between the number of horses being treated and their riders. As riders/owners we are concerned with our horse’s health and their backs, that we sometimes forget about our own. However, if we are not able to sit correctly ourselves we will have a negative effect on our horses and not allow them to perform to their full potential.
Before pain occurs, there is always dysfunction. As we all know ‘prevention is better than cure’, therefore should look to receive regular manual care for both ourselves and for our horses.
Throughout England, there are many highly qualified practitioners working with humans and horses. It is important to find the right one to suit yourself, whether it be a chiropractor, physiotherapist, osteopath, soft tissue therapist etc. Each practitioner has their own area of expertise and knowledge to give and sometimes a combination of different practitioners can allow for optimal care.
How are you doing?
Try these little tests to see whether you have any undetected problems:
- Standing upright, raise both arms to your side and all the way over your head. At the top, place your palms together. Are your fingertips level? If not, you might have some imbalances in your shoulders.
- Lie face down on your bed, with your feet & ankles hanging freely over the edge. Ask your partner or a friend to push up on your heels using their flat thumbs – are your legs equal lengths? If not, you might have some tightness in your pelvis.
- Standing upright, take a big stride forward on one leg and drop your back knee towards the floor (you can lift your heel up) – do you feel pain in the front of your thigh, or does your knee wobble to either side? If so, you may have a weakness in your adductor muscles.