How to Regain Your Form: Horseback Riding, Falls, and the Trauma Reflex

I got bucked off of a horse and landed hard enough on my right hip to warrant a trip to the ER. Luckily, nothing was wrong in the x-rays. Fast forward a few years and I started to notice pain in my hip flexors when riding. I would get off of the horse and feel stiff - more on the right than the left. Years went by and my pain included both hips, and back pain. When I sit for a long period of time, I stand up like a 90 year old woman. When I read through your website, I find myself feeling like someone can finally describe my pain!

"Laura" came to me for Hanna Somatics because she realized that her back and hip pain was probably due to Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) - the condition of chronically contracted muscles that results from muscular adaptation to stress (accidents, injuries, repetitive movement). She wanted to learn to relax her back and hip joint muscles, which had become taut and painful from years of compensating from her original riding accident as well as from long hours in the car and at the computer.

A fall off a horse evokes the trauma reflex and contributes to hip, neck, and shoulder pain.

Laura had developed a typical, habituated Trauma Reflex pattern of compensation: one side of her waist muscles and trunk rotators was tighter than the other side. This occurred due to her sudden fall off her horse many years earlier. Her brain - the command center of the muscles - had forgotten how to control her muscles and no matter what she did to try and relax them, nothing gave her long-term relief. This is a common response to an accident.

In order to ride she had developed compensatory patterns that enabled her to stay on the horse, even though one hip couldn't move as well as the other. Her brain had expertly compensated by over-tightening her hip flexors as she rode, sat at her computer, or drove her car.

Laura also had slightly slumped and tight shoulders - indicative of the Red Light Reflex pattern. She said she had been kicked by a horse and knocked flat on her back on the ground. She was stuck in a dark vise of muscular contraction, as occurs with whiplash. Fluid movement of the spine was almost impossible.

When the back muscles are too tight, one's riding form is stiff. The back doesn't relax and coordinate with the muscles of the front of the body. The brain recruits muscles it doesn't need to help you stay balanced on your horse. The horse no doubt senses your tension and you ride as if you had the emergency brake on. Neither horse nor rider is happy.

The only long-term solution is to retrain the muscles of the back, waist, and front of the body to relax and lengthen again. This will restore proper balance, symmetry and muscular coordination.

Here are some conditions that are the result of an habituated trauma reflex:

  • Sciatica
  • Restricted and painful hip joint
  • Leg length discrepancy
  • Loss of balance due to uneven weight distribution/tilted posture
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Uneven gait, with more pressure into one hip/knee/foot
  • Knee pain
  • Plantar fasciitis

Laura, my equestrian client, learned to use the technique of pandiculation to relax and lengthen her back, waist, and hip muscles. This eliminated her pain because her brain learned to voluntarily release and relax the muscles that had been tightly and painfully contracted. She now practices the gentle, easy Somatic Movements I taught her to do at home; these movements reinforce the brain's ability to self-correct should stress threaten to take over.

Despite her car commute and long hours at the computer, Laura is moving well and back in control of her body. No more visits to the chiropractor, physical therapist or doctor for her pain! Horseback riding is also still very much a part of her life - but now it's easier to do.

To learn to relieve muscle pain easily and rapidly on your own, check out the Essential Somatics® store.