How to Prevent Knee Pain When Riding

In this article, I will show you the common stretches that can be performed before and after you ride to help prevent knee pain when riding.

It’s important to note that Riding itself doesn’t cause knee pain, it simply highlights an underlying issue. If you haven’t already, check out my article on the causes of knee pain in horse riders.

Prevent Knee pain when riding by stretching the quadriceps and hamstrings

Overview of Causes of Knee Pain in RidersThe most common reason for knee pain in horse riders is due to muscular tension around the quadriceps. The quadriceps tendon runs over the knee cap and attaches just below.

Tightness in the hamstrings can also cause knee pain because the hamstring tendons run over the back of the knee and attach to the lower leg bones (tibia & fibular).

Because the tendons run over the knee joint they can cause pressure which makes it feel like there is a problem with the knee itself. Actual knee issues such as arthritis can be officially diagnosed by an MRI or X-Ray.

When a rider experiences knee pain when riding and/or generally the most common reaction is to limit movement and exercises. This can actually contribute to the pain you are experiencing and over time, make it worse.

Even if you have a confirmed diagnosis of arthritis in the knees. Not stretching and exercising will contribute to the pain you are experiencing.

2 Stretches to Prevent Knee Pain when Riding

Is it really just 2 stretches? yes! stretching out the quadriceps and hamstrings before and after riding will really help you reduce knee pain when in the saddle. If you can do these stretches daily to, whether you ride or not, then you will experience less and less pain in the knees overall.

Quadricep Stretch

There are two versions of the quadriceps stretch. There is a basic stretch for those that really struggle with their range of movement and a more advanced stretch for those that have good mobility.

Both stretches are highly effective.

Option 1 – Easier

Hold for 30 seconds on each leg

Option 2 – Harder

Hold for 30 seconds on each leg

Quad Stretch for horse riders - - Prevent Knee Pain when Riding
  • Place a hand on the wall/fence or use a broom to balance yourself.
  • Keep your standing leg soft at the knee (not locked out)
  • Bend the knee behind and grasp the front of your foot (or use a lead rope/band to help you)
  • Gently pull the foot towards your bottom
  • Make sure that your upper body remains as straight as possible
  • Avoid tilting the pelvis
Quad Stretch Advanced - Prevent Knee Pain when Riding
  • Place the front of your foot on a mounting block, low wall, or bench (about 1meter high)
  • Rest on a broom or stick in front of your body, to help balance yourself.
  • Slowly bend your standing knee so you dip downwards keeping the bent knee pointing downwards
  • Go as low as you can comfortably until you feel the stretch in the front of your bent leg
  • Make sure that your upper body remains as straight as possible
  • Avoid tilting the pelvis

Hamstring Stretch

Again there are two versions. An easier one for those that have a limited range of movement in their hip and a stretch for those with greater mobility. If you don’t feel the stretch in the back of your leg, the hamstrings, move back and forth slightly, gently, till you do. Everyone is different so you may just need to ‘adjust’ yourself slightly.

Option 1 – Easier

Hold for 30 seconds on each leg

Option 2 – Harder

Hold for 30 seconds on each leg

  • Place one foot around 1meter in front of your body
  • Keep the back leg soft at the knee (not locked out)
  • Rest on a broom or stick to the side of your body, to help balance yourself.
  • Bend forward from the hip, keeping your back straight throughout
  • Keep foot flat on the floor or lift the toes to intensify the stretch

Advanced Hamstring Stretch - Prevent Knee Pain when Riding
  • Place the heel of your foot on a mounting block, low wall or bench
  • high)
  • Keep the back leg soft at the knee (not locked out)
  • Rest on a broom or stick to the side of your body, to help balance yourself.
  • Bend forward from the hip, keeping your back straight throughout
  • Keep the leg straight to feel the stretch closer to the knee
  • Bend the knee and bend forward from the hip to feel the stretch closer to your bottom

The Golden Rule for Horses and their Riders

The golden rule of horse rider welfare and fitness, as well as horses, is ‘Lengthen, Strengthen, REPEAT. When a horse gets a muscular/tendon injury. They must of course rest first then lengthen the muscle/tendon and strengthen over time. Lengthening can be therapy and/or walking in hand to start and is built up over time. Gradually increasing the time, intensity, and complexity (such as different terrain, up and down hills, pole work, in hand core work). This rehab work is done to ensure that the muscle/tendon can deal with the demand of being a horse and riding/competing, if applicable.

For riders, we typically spend the majority of our life sitting, standing, or moving with short strides. This causes the muscles in the legs to become shortened and tight. When muscles become shortened and tight they pull on the tendons that attach to the tibia bone.

You can learn more about how muscles can cause knee pain by clicking the button to take you to the article.

How to Prevent Knee Pain when Riding

Being active by walking the dog, doing yard duties etc do not use your muscles or joints through their full range. It is important to perform exercises that condition your muscles within their full abilities to prevent issues from arising.

Whilst stretching these muscles will help to elevate pain/discomfort caused by tight muscle tendons pressing on the knee joint it will take time. To alleviate it quicker you should consider strengthening exercises. This will also help to prevent knee pain when riding, and in general, long term.

Rider Leg Muscle

I was experiencing a lot of pain in my knee and it was beginning to stop me from doing the things I wanted.  The GP asked me about my symptoms and diagnosed arthritis without getting any scans.  This was worrying for me – my mum is disabled by arthritis in her knees.  I was recommended to speak to Clare at RiderCise. 

Clare designed a program of exercises to build my strength and put me in touch with a sports therapist for soft tissue massage.  The pain in the knee is a thing of the past.  I’m fitter now than I have been for years, and I’m no longer stopped from doing anything I want. 

Thank you, Clare.

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