Caring for Equestrian Back Injuries

Obvious caveat: I am not a doctor. Talk to a doctor before doing anything with your body. This post is a description of how I help myself and is not meant to be medical advice. 

In addition to the fall where I broke almost all of the bones in my back, I had another fall about a year prior to that where I dislocated my SI joint and tore a disc in between my L4 and L5. While the bones all healed up quickly and I really just needed to rebuild muscle from that fall, this other fall haunts me to this day.

Cinder with Silicon Valley in the background

I fell off an OTTB named Cinder, that I owned while on a trail ride. The fall wasn’t really all that dramatic, but I landed awkwardly. I managed to get myself on my feet and rode back to the barn. Cinder was really tall so I remember riding Shasta back because I could get on her from the ground and my my husband rode Cinder back. I was in a lot of pain, but I could walk and as usual, was disinterested in going to the doctors. The next day I was in even worse pain and finally dragged myself to my doctor who diagnosed me as having dislocated my SI joint. I didn’t want to get X-rays at that time so the torn disc wasn’t diagnosed until months later.

I did physical therapy and chiropractic after the injury but neither were terribly helpful. However, It’s been 4+ years since that injury and I have found some things that help.

Heat

I keep a heating pad on my couch and put it on my back whenever I am sitting there. Which is pretty frequently because I don’t have a desk so I keep my laptop at the couch. I use the heating pad even in the summer though I did have to stop when it was over 100 because our A/C doesn’t work and I was dripping sweat in my house even without a heating pad on. My little dog, Ceili, is completely obsessed with the heating pad and if I get up to go to the bathroom or go to the kitchen, she will immediately steal my seat. She does this even in the summer and if I don’t kick her off, she will bake herself on it.

Heat is so helpful for me that I bring Therma-Care back pain therapy wraps – which are like those instant hand-warmers, but for your back – with me when we go camping and go to shows.

Menthol

You may know this better as Bengay, Biofreeze, or Icy-Hot, but I just buy the generic version. This stuff smells and makes a mess so I don’t normally bring it camping or to shows, but I will use it at home if my back is acting up. Because it’s smelly, I usually put some on before bed and then shower in the morning instead of using it during the day. I did recently discover IcyHot patches, which allow me to use Icy-Hot when camping or sleeping over at shows, but it still smells so I don’t wear them out and about.

Baths

I take a lot of baths. I pour in a ton of epsom salt and sometimes some bubble bath. Bath bombs are my favorite, but they’re so expensive and I have yet to master making them myself. The combination of heat and epsom salts really helps my back. Obviously I can’t take this camping with me, but I will go out and buy epsom salts while traveling if I have access to a bath at the hotel. I really love hot tubs and feel a lot better after being in one, but we can’t have one in our rental. A hot tub is pretty high up on my list of things to buy as soon as we get our own place. Right after pigs. My husband might dispute this order of acquisition.

life goals

A Good Chiropractor

The good part is key here. I tried a few different chiropractors after the injury under the advice of my doctor. One of the chiropractors was even a physical therapist. It really didn’t help at all and some of them made things worse. I was pretty convinced that chiropractors were bs. It was only seeing how well my horses responded to chiropractic work that convinced me to try it again. I finally found a good chiropractor who combines chiropractic work with massage and I have found it beneficial. Chiropractic work really helps me with the odd twinge or pull that I get when I fall off or sleep weird, but it’s not a huge help for my regular back pain.

I would pay so much for this to be my chiro

Get a Better Mattress

It took a while for me to realize that my bed was causing a lot of my problems. Our mattress was pretty old and needed replacing, but I didn’t realize how much it was affecting my back until I went on a few vacations and realized my back was hurting less when I was sleeping on hotel mattresses and guest rooms. We bought a sleep number bed and I so highly recommend it. My husband has no back injuries and he loves it too so really I’d just recommend a Sleep Number all around. For camping, we have a real mattress with a 4″ memory foam topper in the back of our truck. It’s really much better for my back than trying to sleep on an air mattress. And it’s warmer too.

Not Standing

For me, standing is the worst thing I can do for my back. I’m better off sitting. This can sometimes be a bit awkward, but I’ve gotten better about just getting a chair and sitting down. I’ve gone so far as to bring a chair over and sit when doing things like holding horses for chiropractic work or saddle fittings. I’ll also sit whenever I can. At shows, at clinics, in lines. I get some weird looks sometimes, especially when there isn’t even a chair and I just plop down on the ground, but it’s worth it to keep my back from hurting.

These are some of the main things that help me.If anyone has anything they’ve used that they recommend, share in the comments. I’m open to trying new things.

23 thoughts on “Caring for Equestrian Back Injuries

  1. Teresa

    Those back injuries can haunt you forever. It sounds like you have a good program. Have you tried one of those personal tens machines? I wonder if that would help.

    Reply
    1. Olivia Post author

      I have wondered about that. My chiro includes a tens session before the massage and I think it helps. The home ones have gotten so cheap now I have been tempted to buy one.

      Reply
    2. the_everything_pony

      I second the tens unit! I had neck pain from getting bucked off (probably due to a slightly bulging neck disc) for about a year and a half and it’d seize every few months to where I couldn’t even turn my head to the right. Massage and acupuncture help the muscles but I can’t do it often enough and the pain would be worse after those treatments. A friend gave me their tens unit, and it works wonders for my neck. I’ve gotten the knot of muscle down and whenever a little bit of pain is coming, I put the unit on for however long I want and it helps so much that I can use it every day. It’s really kept my pain level down!

      Reply
  2. sarahczspots

    I’m lucky that I don’t have a chronic back issue but I do have a cervical impingement up high at the base of my neck that does screwy things every 6 months or so. I’ll wake up and just be unable to get out of the bed without rolling out of it. Luckily my regular doctor is a DO and has always been successful at manipulating it back to normal, it just takes some advil and time to get loosened up and pain free after an adjustment. That small struggle is enough to give me a lot of sympathy for people with issues like yours. I have used heat and BioFreeze on mine with limited success. It helps with the soreness but doesn’t alleviate the impingement obviously.

    Reply
  3. Leah

    My husband has had chronic back issues (bulging discs causing sciatica and then a microdiskectomy) and he loooooves the hot tub. It’s definitely been a game changer for him. Although interestingly enough, we both hated the sleep number bed we had!

    Reply
  4. Stacie Seidman

    I messed my back up when I was 14 but never got it properly diagnosed. So every now and then it comes back to remind me it’s still a thing. I’ve found heat to be wonderful too. I turn my seat heater on in my car every morning, even in summer! Yoga has helped too. I think all the stretching and strengthening the muscles around whatever the injury was/is can be very helpful.
    And so agree about too much standing! I have to fidget/change position or I won’t be able to move if I stand in the same way for too long. Especially if it’s damp and/or cold out.

    Reply
    1. Olivia Post author

      I keep trying Yoga thinking it will help but I can never stick with it because it’s just so boring to me. I really want to like it.

      Reply
  5. Karen

    SI injury when I was 13 that left torn cartilege and SI pain for absolute years. And then when I was 44 I ruptured the L5 disc. When I first started riding again, the pain was unreal. I could only walk while I waited for the muscles to strengthen. During one of my trail rides, I carried a hydration pack and the extra support it gave me was awesome. Then a couple of weeks later I saw a Back On Track backbrace. It was the best thing I’ve ever purchased. I wore it pretty much all of the time for almost two years, but since then I haven’t had to use it at all unless I am moving furniture, more as a proactive measure than anything else. I can do 20 mile rides at w/t/c and we are working on flying changes, half pass and lengthenings in our dressage lessons without any pain.

    The BOT adds support while also keeping the muscles warm and loose. It will make a huge difference in your life. At least it did for me. And when J slipped a disc in her back, we got her one and it really helps when she is having pain.

    Reply
    1. Olivia Post author

      I bought a BoT back brace back after the 2nd injury and it did nothing for me. It’s actually what made me skeptical of BoT for years. Then I got the elbow brace and it really helped me. Then I bought a ton of BoT for the horses and they all love it. I have been thinking I should retry the back brace.

      Reply
  6. martidoll123

    those gifs LOL all were perfect. UGH back injuries are the worse (Says My PT guy right now as he is working on my leg tendons but points out it all goes back to my back issues). And i want a hot tub too or a jacuzzi tub. My tub right now the plug is broken so i cant even have an old fashioned bath. UGH….

    I also considered buying the BOT Backbrace. i have the knee one from an old injury and love it!!

    Reply
  7. Exploringdressagebiomechanics

    My long time chronic back problems have been helped tremendously by yoga. Specifically the free videos on YouTube by Dressage Rider Training. Every time I have tried yoga before it has made me even more sore/aggravated my back but by starting with the easiest video, only doing the things I could do pain free or modifying things, in nine months at 3-4 times per week, I can do the hardest videos and am completely pain free. It’s been great for my riding as well! I think the difference is a ton more core strength but also getting even in both sides of my body flexibility wise and loosening up my hips tremendously. Can’t recommend yoga enough but start really slowly(less than ten minutes a day) and treat it like brushing your teeth-something you just do every day.

    Reply
  8. lifeisbetterthere

    Baths. More baths and get the hot tub AND the pigs simultaneously.

    Yoga is boring. But just stretching while you watch TV is sort of like yoga but multitasking?

    Reply
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