Rider Health

Increasing Flexibility in Your Spine

Registered physiotherapist, Alison Barr shares a simple stretch to improve flexibility and prevent pain in your back.

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By: Alison Barr |

As a physiotherapist, I work with a lot of people who have pain or stiffness in their backs. As an equestrian and riding instructor, I can see how many riders would benefit from applying physiotherapy to their riding.

Working around horses and riding makes us prone to having issues with our backs, because our horses aren’t always gentle on us. Stiffness or pain when riding is unpleasant, and its effect on your posture can be hard on your horse and decrease your performance.

Increasing your flexibility through your spine can improve your riding in many ways, such as:

  • reducing pain or discomfort while riding
  • facilitating relaxation of your whole bodymaking it easier to follow the canter/lope without rocking or pumping
  • reducing how much you bounce during the jog or trot

If you are like most people, and are slightly tighter on one side of your body, you may see even more benefits, like:

  • better quality lateral work, bending and straightening from your horse
  • improvement in your weaker canter/lope reinless corrections from your instructor

All of this can help you to feel more comfortable, be gentler on your horse’s back, and potentially take your riding to the next level.

The Child’s Pose Stretch

Improving flexibility in your spine can be a complicated goal, but this simple exercise can start you on the right track. I like it because it gives a gentle stretch to the shoulders, mid back/rib cage, the low back and the hips. Most people find it comfortable, making it easier to build into a daily routine.

Start on your hands and knees then shift your weight backwards towards your heels. To maximize this stretch, try it with your hands further forward, or dropping further onto your bottom. Stretches don’t have to be precise. Find the position where you feel the most relief/stretching. Try to be symmetrical when you do this exercise; it will improve your alignment and increase your ability to feel when your body is straight.

At the Barn

If you’re at the barn and don’t want to get your breeches dirty, an easy adaptation to this stretch is to do it holding onto a stall or fence rail. Just grab on and lean your bottom backward. You’ll feel this more
in the mid-back and less in the low-back, so stick with what feels more comfortable to you.

How Much to Do

I generally encourage clients to stretch for between 30 seconds and one minute, one to two times. If you are about to compete or do something strenuous, however, avoid deep stretching. If you only have occasional stiffness or pain, you may choose to do this exercise only when you feel you need it, but most of us benefit from doing exercises more frequently. I recommend twice a day, every day, until you achieve the degree of flexibility you want. For anyone whose lifestyle makes them stiff or sore, such as office work, lots of driving, stress or too much playing with your phone, consider making stretching a part of your daily routine.

When to Get Help

Not every exercise is right for everyone. The back is a complicated area, which is impacted by muscles all over the body. Consider speaking to a physiotherapist or your doctor if you experience the following:

  • you can’t do this exercise without pain
  • you are generally struggling with pain/posture
  • you have a previous injury or health problem that affects your ability to ride

A physiotherapy assessment can help to identify the specific challenges that are holding you back from your goals, and physiotherapy treatment, including exercises, can help you reach those goals. Just make sure you go home with exercises to do independently! Hands-on treatment of any kind is only a short-term fix unless you back it up with exercises at home.