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Riding with bad knees?

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  • Riding with bad knees?

    Hi, I'm new here and have absolutely no experience with horses but have always wanted to learn to ride. My 4 year old daughter recently started lessons and I guess I'll need to learn how to ride as well since she is not old enough to go on trail rides with her school once she gets more experience without someone going with her. Anyways, my question is - is it possible to ride if you have bad knees? I have never had a knee injury, the Dr thinks my knees were messed up from having splints as a baby (they are slightly mis-aligned turning inwards at the knee cap, it's not noticeable unless you really look closely, I didn't even notice it until it was pointed out to me). I have had a few surgeries. The first was to clean out some rough cartilage and he also ended up doing a lateral release (on the "inner" side of the knee - cut the ligament on the side of the knee cap?), the second surgery I had cleaned out more cartilage and a release was done on the other side of my knee as well as a patella-tendon transfer, re-grooving/deepening the groove your knee cap rests in and re-positioned and tightened the muscle on the inner side of your thigh that goes to your knee (one of the quad muscles but I can't remember the name of it the particular muscle). The first surgery I had was due to my knee locking up on me, I was driving a school bus at the time and went to hit the brake and my knee decided to lock up on me for a minute or so and it started getting more frequent. The second surgery I ended up getting after I bent down to pick up my keys after dropping them and having my leg lock up on me for a few seconds and I woke with the next day with my knee bruised and swollen to three times it's normal size and unable to walk on it, they still don't know what I did to it. My knees constantly hurt (they say it looks like I am starting arthritis early in them) but I have been trying to strengthen them and recently went through another round of PT and injections trying to avoid further surgery for the pain. I'm still too young for a knee replacement and my Dr just keeps telling me to use my knees more (easy to say when you're not the one walking around in pain). Please don't ask what type of riding I am thinking about because I honestly don't know the difference. I am just looking to learn enough that I can care for and handle a horse and not fall off constantly. Thanks.

  • #2
    If you're motivated, anything is possible. I ride, although do not have much experience. Haven't ridden in four years because of knee pain. Had both knees replaced in August 2012 and got on a horse last week. It was wonderful and didn't hurt a bit. I'd find someplace local to take lessons - private lessons so you can go at your own pace. Make sure the instructor is familiar with teaching adults and understands your knee issues. See how it feels - it may be wonderful or it may be awful - but at least you'll know!


    • #3
      When you say that you have had injections, are they cortisone?

      I have arthritis in both of my knees. I am 60 years old, so am a candidate for a replacement. Because I show in eventing, I have been getting Ortho Visc injections for a year and a half in my left knee and just got them for the first time in my right knee. Ortho Visc is a hylaronic gel, which feels bouncy inside your knee, as well as eases the pain.

      Those injections really have helped me through my riding. Also, I use MDC stirrup irons, which can be adjusted so that they are not putting extra torque on your knees.

      If you do decide to ride, maybe try a Rocky Mountain Saddle Horse or a Kentucky Mountain. They are gaited and smooth, so should not hurt your knees as much as a horse that trots.
      When in Doubt, let your horse do the Thinking!


      • #4
        I have ridden all my life and now have had both knees replaced. I would recomend that you ride in a western style saddle with synthetic stirrups. The synthetic stirrups allow more freedom for your knees than the leather ones---the leather ones tend to turn your knees to "fit" the stirrups. English style riding requires posting the trot which will be harder on your knees. I have always ridden Dressage (english) until my knee replacements. The change to a western saddle on my horse has enabled me to continue to enjoy riding. Perhaps your childs instructor can guide you to someone who teaches western style riding.


        • #5
          There are a variety of ways you can take the torque off your knees, whether you are riding English or Western. I bought Sprenger hinged stirrups back when they were the only thing out there, and they got rid of the pain in my knees and hips. You can also get irons that are designed to hang perpendicular to the horse rather that parallel. For western stirrups you can also get something that will accomplish the same thing. I actually haven't had an issue with my western saddle, as it is a Circle Y which has what they call "softee" leather that doesn't need breaking in. So it is not necessary to "broom" the fenders.
          Providence sometimes takes care of idiots. Agnes Morley Cleaveland in No Life for a Lady.


          • #6
            I ride most days with extremely painful knees. Ride in my jumping saddle. Ride in my dressage saddle. Ride in my western saddle. I do have Sprenger hinged stirrups for my English saddles. That does help some on some days.

            I figure it is just one of those things where "you pay to play".

            Both my horses are such that when I get down I can hang on to their necks and they take me back to the barn (because I can hardly walk when I get down). By the time we get back I can walk well enough to untack them and care for them.

            I do need to get my knees injected again...


            • #7
              Go for it!

              I am a middle-aged "re-rider"; started up riding again about 4 years ago after a long hiatus. Earlier this year I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both knees and one hip, as well as a degenerative tear in the right lateral meniscus. I ride English, and posting trot seems to aggravate the pain in my right knee. I now wear a brace when I ride, do exercises to support my knees prescribed by PT, and get steroid injections.
              I agree with others that you should start with an instructor who understands adult beginners so you build correct habits right away to minimize strain on your knees. I've found that using a longer stirrup length is helpful. I love my trainer and my discipline, but I am opening to switching to western, riding gaited horses, or just trail riding if it keeps me involved with horses.

              I'm also a medical librarian, and can tell you there is not much in the sports medicine literature on equestrians, unless you count traumatic injuries. You will probably need to work with your health care provider(s) to educate them on the biomechanics so they can advise you on how to be good to your knees while in the saddle. I got someone at the barn to video me. Being fit in general will help--a strong core and good muscle tone will allow you to support you knees, too.

              Have fun exploring the world of horses! I am *so* glad to be back in it!
              It's never too late to have a happy childhood.


              • Original Poster

                Originally posted by Auburn View Post
                When you say that you have had injections, are they cortisone?
                Yes, they are cortisone injections. I'll have to ask about the other type next time I go in. I'm getting ready to go back to my original surgeon (I switched due to insurance, my newer surgeon is great but he primarily treats professional athletes).

                Thanks for all the replies. I am currently looking at different barns and found one that will give a free intro lesson so I may go for that and see how my knees do.


                • #9
                  I rode most of my life with bad knees. It was just worth it to me.

                  Not only do I have rheumatoid arthritis, but the surgeon who put one of my knees back together thinks some of my knee problems were caused by casts that I wore as a baby, to fix club feet. You mentioned splints--was that a similar treatment? I am curious as I've only met one other person who had the same treatment I did for club feet (and she has knee problems, too).



                  • Original Poster

                    Originally posted by RMJacobs View Post
                    I rode most of my life with bad knees. It was just worth it to me.

                    Not only do I have rheumatoid arthritis, but the surgeon who put one of my knees back together thinks some of my knee problems were caused by casts that I wore as a baby, to fix club feet. You mentioned splints--was that a similar treatment? I am curious as I've only met one other person who had the same treatment I did for club feet (and she has knee problems, too).

                    I had Denis-Brown splints according to my parents. They said my feet turned slightly inward. I don't remember them but they said I would put dents in the hardwood floors by raising my legs then banging down as hard as I could. A few years ago I found an article somewhere online that was written about a study some med students had done that linked Denis-Brown splints to bad knees. Apparently by straightening the foot it then knocked out the alignment of the rest of leg, particularly the knees (some people even have hip issues). I assume this is why I have had knee problems my whole life. I also have weak ankles (they turn in slightly when I walk, only noticeable if you really look closely and know what you're looking for) and my cousin who is a neck/back/spine surgeon said that the only way to fix it is to break the whole foot and re-build it. He has the same issue and says he would rather deal with sore ankles than get the surgery and he stands in surgery all day. I figure if one of the top orthopedic surgeons in the world doesn't want the surgery then I probably don't want it either.

                    I haven't had a chance to contact the schools I've been looking at yet but have been doing a lot of online research and trying to find reviews/opinions on the ones I'm considering. I'm also waiting to hear back from one of the vets I used to work with who is an Equine practitioner to get her opinion on the different places in the area. I' not concerned with going to some fancy place that is spotless, what matters to me first is that they take good care of the horses and second is that they are good people. The place my 4 year old rides isn't spotless or fancy but all the horses look healthy and happy and the people there are great. I would go there but they tend to teach a lot of younger people and the older riders are all advanced. The oldest person in the beginners class is about 10 and it is taught by someone my daughter's age (she's about 15 but does great with the kids and my daughter loves her).


                    • #11
                      It sounds like a similar treatment. I had severe club feet and had full length casts on both feet/legs for a long time. I have no memory of it because my feet were straightened before I was two years old. But my mother used to tell me that I would lie in my crib doing leg lifts with the casts when I was very young. She thought that was how I ended up with amazingly strong legs. Too bad my joints don't work well enough to support them!



                      • #12
                        There is nothing wrong with riding with knee braces for extra support.


                        • #13
                          Work with your sports medicine/orthpedic doctor, and perhaps a physical therapist who understands what riding entails physiologically. Set up a program to strengthen your legs to get you ready to ride and then maintain strength in areas to offset your weaknesses/frailties/injuries. Use a 3 step mounting block to both mount and dismount (my horse is 16hh and when I told my dr how high the jump down to dismount was he said to get off using a block, plus it saves the saddle & horse's back). I cannot emphasize enough a program tostablilize the knees and strengthen surrounding areas- for me I do bicycle, elliptical, walking and deloaded squats (usually on a Total Gym).
                          Appy Trails,
                          Kathy, Cadet & CCS Silinde
                          member VADANoVA www.vadanova.org


                          • #14
                            What kind of brace do you all ride in? I can't seem to find a brace that would let me get my leg on my horse.


                            • #15
                              I use this one. I always mount from a large fixed 2 step mounting block. The horse I ride is a 17+ hand draft cross, so that's really my only option anyway!
                              The brace does make it a bit difficult to dismount; I wear it under my breeches and my old pair of cheap suede stretched out half chaps, (which fit over the brace perfectly) but sometimes the edge does catch a bit on the cantle. The horse and I are still working on my dismounting onto the mounting block, but we're almost there.

                              After I tried it on in the Dr.'s office I admit I was dismayed at its size, but I became used to it very quickly, and now I barely notice it while I'm in the saddle.

                              It's never too late to have a happy childhood.


                              • #16
                                I've had 4 knee surgeries and while I do get some knee pain, it's usually more if I'm just trail riding at a walk and not moving much. I have similar pain when I drive for more than about 30 minutes and can't use cruise control and move my legs around.

                                If I know I'm going to be on a pretty low key trail ride, I take Aleve or some other NSAID prior. I will often ice after. It's worth it though! I feel much better if I'm doing a lot of posting.

                                Also, if you've had the release for your IT band, you're probably not going to have to deal with that type of pain. (the burn!) That's one that tends to bother a lot of riders.
                                A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

                                Might be a reason, never an excuse...


                                • Original Poster

                                  Thanks to everyone for the suggestions. Unfortunately I just found out I will have to delay my lessons a bit. I found a place to try out and was going to schedule something next weekend. I was getting some pain in my lower leg/ankle area and went to get it checked out. Turns out I have an OCD lesion on my talus and am going to the surgeon on Monday. I'm hoping this won't delay my lessons for too long but want to make sure it heals up well first. My husband says I'm not old enough to be falling apart this much!


                                  • #18
                                    I have had bad knees ( see my name) since 1976. We are talking every time I walk into an orthos office to see if there is something they could do they begin to salivate bad. Then something happens and I have to postpone and time goes by and I forget until I do something stupid like walking to far and I remember and the process starts all over again.
                                    The last time something happened was 9-11.. so well ..

                                    I don't do injections as I am shot phobic.. Cant say needle phobic because I have had "needles " in all sorts of places and in places I did not even knew I had..

                                    I don't use bendy irons (yet,might have to, we'll see). I do ride in full chaps that are tight on my legs. And I do believe in when ever I take a break I drop my stirrups and let my legs hang straight down and point my toes down and streach the muscles and "pull the knees" then drop the heels to do the same. I also sometimes take along my DH to pull out my knees but that is if he is available and wishes to sit through hours of horse(not his thing).

                                    One day I will get my knee replaced maybe when the world stops for a day or two. But for now I listen to my body.. I don't much much when my knees have problem straighten out when I wake up and it takes me( what feels like) ten minutes to get out of bed to go to the b-room. When I ride I just listen to my body to see how far I can push it and if they need support like vet wrap etc. ( I have mmm 9 pairs of braces for all sorts of weather).
                                    Friend of bar .ka


                                    • #19
                                      I had terrible knee pain riding. Western saddles were much worse than English. I finally indulged in a pair of MDC stirrups. I wish I had done that a long time ago. I can ride now with no knee pain. It was that tiny almost imperceptible torque of the stirrup.
                                      "The captive bolt is not a proper tool for slaughter of equids they regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck fully aware they are being vivisected." Dr Friedlander DVM & frmr Chief USDA Insp