The Low Down On Low Back Pain

One of the most debilitating, bothersome and time-stealing problems for riders is low back pain. Many back experts report that low back pain is the fifth most common reason for all physician visits in the United States. Contrary to what many people think – low back pain is also reported to be the most frequent activity limitation in people younger than 45 years old.1, 2, 3

There are many ways to address this problem from both a treatment and prevention standpoint. Simple solutions such as lifting techniques and body positioning while working are critical and may cause significant changes in structure and function. Getting better circulation to all muscles will assist in clearing out waste products in your body that can contribute to muscle tension.

To reduce or eliminate back pain we need to look at preventative and long term measures. Some of these might include:

1. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight.
2. Maintaining proper posture.
3. Remaining Active.
4. Wearing comfortable shows.
5. In addition to regular exercise, working with another health care practitioner such as a doctor, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc.
6. Taking part in a mind-body type exercise program like Pilates.

Many people are now turning to Pilates to reduce or eliminate back pain. It€™s focus on strengthening the core and the deep torso muscles has helped many people manage or eliminate their back pain. Here are some particular benefits:

1. Pilates encourages proper posture. Proper alignment is key to overall function of the body. Each Pilates exercise focuses on making sure that the body is in proper alignment. When we are in proper alignment our body functions more effectively. Not only can we move with more strength, but we are less likely to injure ourselves.
2. Pilates strengthens the core and balances the body. Once you have balance and strength, the body is much better able to handle repetitive stress. By building in a girdle of support for the back and abdomen the body is better able to function on a daily basis.
3. Pilates works on increasing flexibility in the body. Flexibility is very important as it allows us to move our body the way we desire. Pilates exercises that stretch us to make us more flexible also feel good and can eliminate muscle soreness.

Here are a few EQUESTRIAN PILATES® mat exercises that are known to help reduce or eliminate low back discomfort. As with any new exercise regiment consult a doctor before practicing these exercises.

Spinal Bridging




Goal – To lengthen and increase the flexibility of your spine by rolling through each vertebra while engaging your abdominal muscles to initiate and control your movement. After each bridge the spine should feel longer.

This exercise is taught to almost everyone who has low back pain. It teaches us to use our abdominal muscles in a way that supports and lengthens the lower back.

Position Description – Lie on your back with your needs bent and your arms by your side.

1. Inhale in through the nose.
2. Exhale through the mouth as you engage your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Engage your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly in and up. Engage your pelvic floor muscles by engaging the muscle that keep you from peeing.
3. Inhale through your nose.
4. As you exhale raise your tailbone toward the ceiling, flattening your lower back. Curl your spine up, one vertebra at a time ending in a bridge.
5. In the bridge position, inhale through your nose and reach with the knees to lengthen the spine.
6. Exhale through your mouth as you curl back down, one vertebra at a time, returning to neutral spine position.
Repeat 7 more times.

Notice – Pay close attention to whether or not your spine easily peels off the mat one vertebra at a time or if it feels more like a huge chunk moving at once. Focus on engaging your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor allowing your lower back to relax. Notice how your spine lengths and releases tension. Do not to allow yourself to sink into one hip or the other for support€”this means you are overusing one side to support your body weight and under using the opposite. If this happens, engage your stomach muscles to even out your hips. Relax your gluts and your leg muscles and focus on your strength coming from your core and pelvic floor.

Application to Riding – This exercise helps prevent rigid posture in the saddle. It allows you to sit up tall in the saddle. It helps eliminate head bobbing and balances the seat.

Knee Sways

Goal – This exercise teaches the principle of moving the legs from the core. It also releases tension in the lower back, obliques and hip muscles.

Position Description – Lie on your back with your needs bent and your arms by your side.

1. Inhale in through your nose.
2. Exhale through your mouth as you engage abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. To engage your abdominal muscles pull your tummy in and up. To engage your pelvic floor muscles squeeze the same muscle that prevents you from peeing. Let both knees fall to the left side. Hold for a count of five.
3. Inhale as you bring your knees back to the center. Do four sets.
4. Repeat on the other side.

Notice – Focus your attention on the engagement of the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. Try to relax the top and back of your legs and use your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor to move your legs. Relax your lower back and feel the tension release to get the full affect of the stretch. Relax your lower back and feel the tension release to get the full affect of the stretch. Try to relax your gluts and leg muscles during this exercise and focus on your strength coming from your core and pelvic floor.

Application to Riding – This exercise develops flexibility and suppleness in the upper and lower back to help prevent a rigid posture in the saddle. Releasing tension in the hip muscles helps develop a more powerful and effective seat. All of this helps with difficulty sitting the trot.

Cat Up/Down

Goal – Stretch your upper and lower back and front of the body.

Position Description – Get down on all fours with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders with a neutral spine.

1. Inhale through your nose.
2. Exhale and engage the core, abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Round your spine upward, lowering your head toward your chest. Keep your shoulders down.
3. Inhale as you arch the other direction–head up, breast up and tailbone up.
4. Repeat 7 more times.

Notice – Focus on the muscles in your lower back and notice them stretch as you move your spine in either direction. As you feel your abdominal muscles engage feel your back muscles relax to allow a deeper stretch. Maximize the use of the core, pelvic floor, serratus anterior and lats. Minimize the use of the shoulders.

Application to Riding – Flexibility, suppleness, and added length in the spine helps prevent a rigid posture and allows you sit up tall while in the saddle. Again this is a great exercise to work on the muscles which can help prevent lower back pain, slouching and bobbing the head.

It is recommended that you make sure that exercise is the right treatment for your particular condition. You should consult a doctor before trying any of these exercises.


1. Hart LG, Deyo RA, Cherkin DC. Physician office visits for low back pain.
Frequency, clinical evaluation, and treatment patterns from a U.S. national survey.
Spine. 1995;20:11-9.
2. Deyo RA, Mirza SK, Martin BI. Back pain prevalence and visit rates: estimates
from U.S. national surveys, 2002. Spine. 2006;31:2724-7.
National Institutes of Health

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Tisha Vadala

What a great article! I can tell you really care about what you are writing about, which is a rare thing these days. I see a lot of authors just putting up quick junk, which is unfortunate. I hope you know that people actually appreciate quality writing like this!

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