5 Signs You Need a Physical Therapist

When was the last time you had a massage, or saw your primary care doctor for a wellness exam? Now, when was the last time you saw a physical therapist? As equestrians, we take excellent care of our horses. Why don’t we do the same for ourselves? 

If one of these five signs sounds like you, it’s time to see a physical therapist. 

As equestrians, we have a tendency to provide for our horses first and ourselves second. I know that my horse has seen a dentist for the last three years consistently. Myself? I can’t remember the last time I went. 

It’s important that we acknowledge the need to take care of ourselves, as well as our horses. If your horse has a physical therapist, chiropractor, and masseuse, why don’t you? There are several ways to determine if it’s time to see a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Do one of these five reasons below apply to you?

You’re In Pain While Riding

There’s pain and then there’s pain.

To some degree, you can expect pain while you’re riding. However, this pain should be related to muscular exertion, not injury. To the unlucky equestrians who have experienced both types of pain, there is a clear difference. If you’ve been holding a two-point at the trot for longer than usual, you’ll start to “feel the burn” of lactic acid accumulation in muscles, accompanied by signs of fatigue. 

If you’re in pain as soon as you hit the saddle, you’re working with pain related to injury or incorrect patterns of movement. This second type of pain can feel acute or like an ache, but is unrelated to muscular fatigue or the length of time you’ve been performing an exercise. 

I firmly believe that every equestrian deserves the chance to ride without pain. Pain can significantly hold you back in your career and prevent you from forming a good relationship with your horse. Going to a physical therapist’s clinic for an evaluation is the first step to pain-free riding. There, you can be evaluated for patterns of movement or biomechanical weaknesses that could lead to pain in the saddle. A common prescription from a physical therapist is exercise. These prescribed exercises can help you strengthen musculo-skeletal weaknesses out of the saddle so you deal with less pain in the saddle. 

If you’ve ever experienced pain while riding, it’s the number one clue that you need to be evaluated by a Doctor of Physical Therapy. 

You’ve Hit a Plateau

Are you frustrated by your inability to progress? It is really irritating to try your heart out, work with your horse, and still watch all of your riding companions move up to riding First Level dressage tests or bombing around Novice cross country courses without you. 

There are many reasons for a plateau. These can include lameness issues with your horse, fear-related mental blocks, or simply not enough time spent in the saddle. But if you can’t answer yes to any of these obstacles, your biomechanics could be holding you back. 

As an equestrian, the single drop of a seat bone or twitch of a fatigued hand can mean the difference between success and last place in a dressage test. It’s important that we’re able to control our bodies down to the last muscle. If your musculoskeletal system isn’t working in harmony, it will be much more difficult for you to improve your riding. 

At this point, many equestrians turn to generic online rider exercise programs to improve their fitness. Unfortunately, these generic programs don’t work for everyone. Instead, consider going to a physical therapist’s clinic to be evaluated. There, you can discover exactly what’s keeping you from moving up the levels and achieving your goals. Be sure to work with a Doctor of Physical therapy that understands the intricacies of horseback riding. 

You Can’t Perform Your Trainer’s Commands

How many times has your trainer repeated the same command, with no success? Nothing is less satisfying than spending hundreds of dollars on lessons without being able to accomplish what your trainer asks you to do. Do you know how to activate your hip flexors to achieve perfect equitation at the posting trot? Or are you compensating by overarching your back and pinching with your knees instead? While most trainers do their absolute best by their students, some equestrians are held back by their own biomechanics. 

If you can’t activate your hip flexors out of the saddle, it will only be that much harder to “turn them on” when you’re riding. A Doctor of physical therapy can help you discover how to use those minute muscles you didn’t even know you had. Understanding where your musculoskeletal system is weak can help you use your body in ways you weren’t able to  before. Tired of hearing your trainer repeat themselves for the third time? Physical therapist-prescribed exercises will help you use the correct muscles to achieve what you’ve been striving to do. 

You’re Sore for Days After Riding

It’s normal to be sore for a little bit after a particularly tough ride. In and of itself, muscle soreness can actually be a good thing. It means that the muscle fibers are repairing themselves after a taxing workout and getting even stronger. But if days go by and your soreness hasn’t improved, it could be a sign that you’re over-using specific muscles in compensation for weak areas in your biomechanics. It’s important to correct this overuse of certain muscles before it leads to injury. 

Before working out when you’re already sore, it helps to evaluate your soreness on the pain scale. If you’re at a one or two out of ten, then it’s probably okay to continue with your exercise plan. If you’re getting above three or four, or pain gets worse while exercising, stop immediately. At this point, it’s time to be evaluated at a physical therapist’s clinic. A consultation with a Doctor of Physical Therapy will help you figure out what muscle you’re overusing and why. Exercises prescribed by a physical therapist can help you correct the source of the problem. 

Your Joints Crackle and Pop

As we get older, the more noises our joints make. In my personal experience, it seems that equestrians are afflicted with this at an earlier age than most. For most riders, knuckles that pop, ankles that crack, and a neck that occasionally makes a snapping noise is nothing to worry about. But, if your joints hurt when they make these noises, that’s another story altogether. 

Painful joints can be related to weak musculature, biomechanical weakness, or worse– an injury that requires treatment. Just as we provide our horses with a little maintenance when it comes to stiff joints, it’s important we do the same for ourselves. A physical therapist can help you explore all those noises and figure out if it’s nothing to worry about, or if you need to see a specialist to treat an injury. If you’re concerned about joint injuries, it’s important to support them with good muscle development and correct movement patterns. A physical therapist can prevent joint injury by correcting biomechanical weakness before a problem arises. 

Trying to find a physical therapist clinic near you? Check out our new Physio Equine Solutions Clinic at Shields’ Fields. We are open for new clients during COVID-19 and are following all CDC guidelines to keep you (and me!) safe. 

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