Back pain is a common problem among western riders, but James Warson, M.D., says that just because you have back pain doesn't mean you must give up riding. In February's print feature "Hope for Hurting Riders," Warson and riders who've "been there and done that" offer insight into keeping back pain at bay, including modifying your tack, riding style, horse breed and exercise program. Here, Warson offers additional rider-fitness tips, plus explains how to manage back pain with medication.
Use these doctor-prescribed tips to ease back pain while riding.
Regular walking can help you get and stay fit. But don't lace up those old, worn-out shoes. They won't offer the support you need to keep your back healthy. "I like walking shoes that have gel inserts," Warson recommends. "They're terrific shock-absorbers."
Swimming is another activity Warson strongly recommends. "It's the best overall exercise you can do," he says. "You're weightless when you're in the water." In addition to back pain, older riders might also suffer from bad knees and hips and joint discomfort. "Swimming allows these people to exercise aerobically without aggravating hips, knees or arthritic joints," Warson adds.
If you believe that taking an anti-inflammatory medication right before you get on your horse will temporarily relive their back pain, think again. "I hate to break this to you," Warson says, "but these medications definitely have a downside that nobody talks about. In order for them to be effective, they must be taken daily. Some riders in their 40s and beyond might've already developed some natural wear and tear of their backs, or some arthritis. They might require chronic anti-inflammatory medicine not only to help relieve their discomfort, but also to slow the irritation and the arthritic buildup in their muscles and joints."
However, Warson adds, "If you still encounter pain, despite stretching, you should use acetaminophen on top of the anti-inflammatory medicine for pain relief." If you aren't on chronic anti-inflammatory medication, acetaminophen is still the best choice for easing the back pain while riding. Caveat: Before taking or combining any medications, discuss your situation with a physician.