A Concussion Didn’t Stop Me From Riding Thanks to Physical Therapy
By Charlotte Mines, Intern at BetterPT
I am a lifelong athlete. When I was younger, there was a mixed bag of tennis, water sports, t-ball, and soccer but as I got older horseback riding solidified as my main passion. Throughout high school and middle school, my afternoon and evening hours were spent in the barn. On weekends while my classmates slept in, I would rise at the crack of dawn for competitions, driving hours in sweatpants and work boots, mucking stalls and grooming - all for a 3 minute round and (hopefully) a ribbon.
Horseback riding is not the sport you think of when you think of physical therapy if you even consider riding a sport (which you should). Riding injuries are less frequent than most contact sports but when they happen, they are serious. You may be less likely to have a wear or tear injury such but you are more likely to incur a fracture or suffer an upper extremity injury. I was lucky, for the majority of my riding career, I never set foot in a physical therapy office.
That changed my senior year of high school when a particularly bad fall from my horse resulted in a serious concussion. I didn’t realize the severity of my injury at the time, a common occurrence with concussions and I continued on with my jump course before driving home. Later that night I was experiencing serious headaches and nausea and therefore was driven to the ER.
The status quo with concussion injuries is rest, rest, rest. The ER doctor in addition to the concussion specialists I met with in Boston told me to stay home, sleep, and do nothing. Recovery was to avoid all activities. I was told my brain would heal itself in several months assuming I didn’t re-injure it. But, as an active teenager in the midst of college admissions, sports seasons and friendship drama, lying on the couch unable to do my homework or even look at my phone was a bleak prescription.
I wanted to actively heal myself and take steps to regain my feeble balance and subdue my pain. I wanted to know when I could return back to riding and how to pace myself. Lying around just wasn’t good enough - which is how I found myself in the physical therapy office, laying on the floor with the lights off doing breathing and balance exercises. We moved slowly through stretching positions, just being on the mat felt good - a necessary break from my cocoon on the couch at home. The ER had been concerned about my neck, I had pulled several ligaments during my fall. The PT I met with massaged the area gently and provided exercises and positions to help my pain and mobility. I was also treated with vestibular rehabilitation therapy which vastly improved my visual cognition, balance and nausea symptoms.
Once I was back to my daily activities of bright lights, reading, writing and using my phone, there was another phase of my rehabilitation geared towards returning back to horseback riding. I was only allowed a few minutes of activity at first with a proper progression plan put into place. Just sitting/balancing on my horse was step 1, then being able to tolerate riding on a calm horse at a slow pace before trotting or jumping. My physical therapist was there every step of the way and monitored my response to graded activity.
Rest and relaxation, while a key part of concussion recovery, is not the only answer. By incorporating twice-weekly physical therapy into my healing routine, I was able to find immediate symptom relief and recover faster than sleep alone would have allowed. I was also able to return back to the sport that I loved without recurrence of symptoms. I was so lucky to find a physical therapy clinic in my area that offered specialized concussion treatment.
If you or your child has suffered a concussion, find a clinic near you to provide specialized concussion rehabilitation. You can find hundreds of qualities physical therapy clinics in your area through the