The Riders Knee
I’ve just gotten around to reading my latest Equus magazine and found a very interesting article by Dr. James Warson. Dr. Warson is a retired neurosurgeon who is the leading authority on equine-related spinal injuries and author of The Rider’s Pain Free Back. His article this month in Equus addresses rider’s knee problems. I’m sure a lot of you receive this magazine but if you don’t I thought I might relate what Dr.Warson had to say;
Your knees are designed to move in one direction only, front to back. It is not meant to move side to side or rotate. When we ride, we compress this straight structure against the apex of a round surface, the horse’s barrel. This creates a side-to-side stress on the joint it was not meant to endure. Over the years, this pressure causes the medial collateral ligament to tighten and the lateral ligament to weaken and stretch. Disruption of either ligament shifts the tibia in the opposite direction, so lateral-ligament weakness results in deviation of the tibia inward (medially) to produce a bowed leg. Once the knee starts to bow, the stresses on the joint accelerate. When standing and walking the body presses down on the knee unevenly, with more weight borne on the medial surface of the tibia. The resulting compression of the medial meniscus causes inflammation in the joint and degradation of the cartilage that can eventually lead to osteoarthritis. Add hook like arthritic bone spurs, and the result is likely a future knee replacement.
I actually didn’t realize these facts and always thought my bad knees were due to jumping courses and dismounting from a 17’2 hand horse for years. Now that I know better and do not intend to get another knee replacement, I’ll follow the recommendations Dr. Warson makes below:
- Control inflammation. In addition to providing some pain relief, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs) can help reduce inflammation in the knee and slow the progress of any arthritic changes. Consult your doctor before starting anti-inflammatory medication.
- Support joint health. Supplements that contain glucosamine, chondroitin and /or MSM are worth trying, although results are variable. (I take these supplements and they seem to help me).
- Watch your weight. Carrying extra pounds adds to the pressure placed on your knees when you stand and walk. (My doctor actually told me that you relieve 3 pounds of pressure on your knees when you lose just one pound).
- Wear knee braces. These can minimize the sideways pressure on your knees as you ride and provide some relief from discomfort. Braces with solid or semisolid sides are useful when more support and stability are required. Your doctor or orthopedic specialist can help you in making the best selection for your situation. (I haven’t found a knee brace I actually like yet but I do know that the pull on elastic ones absolutely don’t work).
- Use wedge stirrup pads. Because they position the foot so that the outside is slightly higher than the inside, wedge stirrup pads will tension the medial collateral ligament, which takes pressure off the medial meniscus and relieves stretching forces on the lateral collateral ligament. ( I’m going to try this and I’ll let you know how it feels. In the meantime, I still like the Herm Springer flex stirrups I am using).
I hope this post was helpful to everyone with older or arthritic knees. Even if you’re younger it’s a good idea to take care of your knees now before it’s too late. I wish I had known about this earlier on so I could have taken better care of my knees. Do I sound like your mother, sorry about that. I actually am reminded of my grandmother, who had terrible arthritis, warning me “you’re going to get arthritis walking around barefoot in the cold weather” Ah, well the invincibility of youthful ignorance. Sorry Grandma, I should have listened!
Until next time
Quote for Today
In my opinion, a horse is the animal to have. 1100 pounds of raw muscle, power, grace, and sweat between your legs - it's something you just can't get from a pet hamster.