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Chiropractic and Horse Riding – A Patient’s View

Well, it’s that time of year again, the sun is coming out, the ground is soft(ish) and the equestrian season is well under way and after two years, Aintree are welcoming back the crowds for The Grand National. Whatever stance you take on it, is a piece of British history, with its first run in 1839! You’re probably wondering what the Grand National has to do with chiropractic? I wanted to give you an insight into my journey as a hobby equestrienne and chiropractic care. 

I have always loved horses and ridden for as long as I can remember – in my teen years, I worked at my local yard on the weekends in exchange for free lessons and occasional bareback rides to the fields come evening. Well and truly horses, horses, and more horses! 

During these years, I fell off more times than I can count – once 5 times in an hour – safe to say work with no stirrups is not my forte. In a generation, where back protectors were not mandatory, it’s no surprise I ended up with back pain at a relatively young age. It doesn’t seem to hurt as much when you’re young, get straight back on the horse; isn’t that the saying? After years of falls and constantly changing weight distribution, I started to get pain in my left Sacroiliac Joint (SIJ). It got to a point where I could no longer ride without pain radiating around my SIJ and even something as simple as lying flat on my back became impossible. 

I first sought treatment from an osteopath (a friend of the family) in 2013 when I was 18 and for the first time, the pain I was experiencing in my SIJ was becoming manageable. The first ride following treatment, I had to adjust my stirrups – they were now level! I hadn’t realised how much I was compensating on my right side and I finally began to feel like my body was 18 and not 68! The next few years between university and work were a blur and there was not much time (or money!) to ride, so I had to put it on the back burner. 

Fast forward to the first lockdown of 2020, my old, previously well managed symptoms were starting to rear their ugly heads, and I had now developed crippling headaches. My previous osteopath, sadly lost their clinic space in the lockdown, so I was on the hunt for someone new.  I was lucky enough to meet Dr Liz Garvey DC, who became a client of mine. Liz made a bespoke treatment plan for me that consisted of twice weekly and weekly sessions for 8 treatments. After my initial, intense, block of twice weekly treatment, I had already seen a huge improvement in my headaches and SIJ pain. Due to my job as a canine hydrotherapist, Liz recommended that I followed a maintenance plan where I would have a monthly ‘MOT’ to keep my joints flexible, muscles loose and nerves free of irritation. Having a maintenance plan really helped me to function better in my day-to-day life, especially when a typical day for me was full of bending, twisting and lifting. 

In 2021, my stars aligned and I ended up working for Dr Liz. After my first couple of weeks in my new role, I began to realise how much more of a work/life balance I had and I decided it was time to get back in the saddle! Let’s just say, it did not go as I planned and ended with me on the floor, in a heap; and now I know for sure, it hurts more when you’re older!!! I got up, kept a British stiff upper lip and drove home on adrenaline. Once I arrived home, I could barely walk due to the pain. Thinking I would wake up fine in the morning, having fallen more than two dozen times before, I texted Dr Liz for some advice on the best way to relieve my immediate symptoms – with her medical experience, she was a lot more concerned than me.  

After a restless night, where I couldn’t even roll over without acute pain in my lover back, hips and groin, I had to make the dreaded sick call to my new boss of 2 weeks and dragged myself (quite literally) to A&E. After a thorough examination and x-rays, (God bless the NHS), nothing was broken, although they said it was likely I had detached some of the ligaments around my pelvis and was told to rest up for at least 6 weeks, with things potentially taking as long as 6 months to heal fully. 

A couple of days later, I had chiropractic treatment, Dr Liz asked me to perform tests that I before the fall I could usually do with ease; now I couldn’t sit up from laying down unaided, I couldn’t sit down or stand up without hesitation and I couldn’t walk without crutches for at least a week. Dr Liz was so positive and knew that I would make a full recovery, but was also honest, in that this wasn’t going to be something that would go away overnight. 

Having a treatment plan really helped me to progress more quickly and stick to care. After each treatment, I was sore, but the next day, things were easier. The pain slowly dissipated and day to day things were getting easier. Don’t get me wrong, treatment was hard and I wanted to see results more quickly. I was always taught to push through the pain, and Liz taught me that that’s not always the best strategy as it’s the body’s way of stopping us doing harm to ourselves.  

After 6 weeks of twice weekly treatment, I could lift my legs unaided, without pain, I could walk without a limp and do all those boring, daily, adult chores – ALL WITHOUT PAIN. I still had some niggles, particularly in my right groin, and again my left SI was playing up. I did my exercises and stretches that Dr Megan Thomas DC prescribed and I forgot how bad the initial pain was. My body was healing, ligaments were repairing and suddenly the daunting 6-month diagnosis didn’t seem so prevalent. I continued with monthly maintenance care again to get my SIJ back under control. 

I was still cautious, slowly went back to exercise, starting with swimming as it’s low impact and after 6 months, I was back in the saddle on a pony trek through The Mendip Hills in Somerset. Will I be more careful? Maybe. Will I turn to chiropractic treatment for any more horse related injuries? ABSOLUTELY!  

I’m not the only equestrienne who has had success with chiropractic – we have many patients on our list that are horse fanatics, from those who just like a plod around the countryside, to eager competitors! Charlotte Du Jardin (arguably one of the greatest dressage competitors of our time) is under the care of a chiropractor and it is part of her routine when getting ready for a competition. Chiropractic isn’t just for riders; there are currently nearly 60 animal chiropractors in the UK registered with the Royal College of Chiropractors plus another 130 on the McTimoney animal register.  

Most of the horses at the grand national on Saturday, will be receiving chiropractic care – so why aren’t riders as diligent at looking after themselves? Time to get off your high horse and look after yourself – whether it’s due to pain, discomfort or your horse not responding to you as well as they used to – chiropractic could help you. 

Elizabeth Garvey
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