Headaches and the Horse Rider

  Headaches are a common problem in the general population but especially prevalent in horse riders. There are numerous causes for headaches, but one of the most common and easy to fix, causes is poor posture and poor movement patterns.

The upper three neck joints C1, C2, C3  are associated with the nerves that supply the brain and the head.

If these nerves are squeezed or irritated in any way they may well cause a headache.  A migraine is a further squeezing of these nerves and results in symptoms like an aura, nausea, vomiting, and severe head pain.

A migraine is a severe headache. Slumped and Upright Standing Posture Headaches that are caused by poor posture and the movement or lack of movement in the first 3 vertebrae can be fixed or at least managed. 

The poking chin posture (see the photo on the left) causes stress on the upper neck joints and this squeezes the nerves to the brain and head and results in a headache.

As a Physiotherapist, I see many patients with a headache. Many of these have recurring neck pain and stiffness as well as headaches. Many have a pattern to their headache and can cope until one day the headache escalates and then becomes a problem. Horse riders start to notice their headaches are more frequent after riding or after a competition or a lesson.

This is most likely due to poor riding posture and the vibration and movement of the horse. Unless there is a medical cause, most headaches are what we call 'cervicogenicc' (cervico means neck and genic means the origin of). 

Poor neck posture and poor general posture will nearly always result in a headache, given enough time. Repetitive behaviors and postures resulting in the neck being in a poor posture will result in headaches. These postures are the positions we use in our daily work and in our riding posture.

So what is the Relationship between the Horse Rider and Headaches?

DSC 0036The ultimate poor neck posture comes from the round shoulder posture. In this photo, the position is exaggerated for you to see the problem. A person with round shoulders on the ground will have round shoulders in the saddle. When the shoulders are forward and so-called round then the neck will be in a forward poking chin posture. This posture puts the upper neck in an extended position and this squeezes the joints, nerves, and muscles.

The chin is up and the abdomen is closed down, so the core muscle does not work either. Over a period of time, the joints become stiff and painful the muscles shorten and the nerves become inflamed. The nerve then refers the pain into the head as a headache. The increased pressure of riding in a round shoulder posture will increase the pressure and hence nerve pain.

Horse riding is a major cause of headaches. All other activities associated with horses can put pressure on the neck as well. Many do not use any of their postural muscles and are just hanging off their joints. Many people spend many hours in this posture. Driving, computer work, housework, are just a few of the activities that reproduce this posture. As horse riders, we then adapt the same posture in the saddle. Horse riders get told to sit up and put your shoulders back.

How do you fix it?

DSC 0035The easy quick answer is to straighten up, correct your posture, and manage your mobility. The long answer is to educate yourself and manage it with knowledge. It is important to learn how and why you adopt the postures you do and then become educated on how to fix yourself and manage your pain with posture management.

Not many therapists will be able to relate your headaches to horse riding unless they know about the horse riding posture. 

Managing Headaches as a Rider can be easy.

The control of headaches in horse riders is the same as for all people; however, I put an increased emphasis on particular features of treatment because I am a horse rider. 

To control headaches your upper neck joints must have mobility. Your muscles must have strength and endurance. You must have strong core stability as well. The deep core muscle strength will reinforce the correct upper neck posture. I start with the core muscles of every patient I treat for headaches.

The success of management without this knowledge is always limited. I give simple but effective stretching exercises and I educate patients about their posture. I advise all my horse riding pupils to follow the Applied Posture Riding program.

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If you would like to learn more please join my Applied Posture Riding Membership Program. 

cheers Annette Willson