Women on horseback: How does it affect their pelvic floor?

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Researchers in Poland compare healthy active and inactive women with those who ride.
Photo by Ravi_Shah

Recreational horse riding does not appear to be a risk factor for developing pelvic floor dysfunction in women, researchers report.

Monika Urbowicz and her fellow researchers in Poland set out to compare the condition of the pelvic floor in women involved in regular recreational horseback riding with both physically active women, as well as women not undertaking any recreational physical activity.

Horseback riding, they said, is a physical activity of moderate effort which has been shown to have positive effects on back pain. It has been shown to improve motor skills, muscle tension, posture, and balance. It can also lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in adults, as well as increase their serotonin levels.

Additionally, it improves riders’ self-evaluation of their quality of life and increases their eagerness to practice sport.

Riding directly affects the female pelvis, both in terms of movement while riding and where they bear the weight in the saddle. It has, they said, a significant impact on the female pelvic floor.

Previous research has shown that tension in the female pelvic floor increases with the horse’s speed, with the greatest tension at the canter.

They noted that a range of studies had been performed in the area, including research that revealed no riding-related negative effects on sexual function or the condition of the lower urinary tract in women or men. However, no published research had investigated the impact of recreational horseback riding by women on the condition of their pelvic floor based on a wider assessment.

For their study, the researchers enrolled 140 healthy women aged 17 to 61. They were divided into three groups: The 46 who rode horses, the 47 who were classified as physically active but did not ride, and 47 who were physically inactive.

The three groups were asked to complete the Australian Pelvic Floor Questionnaire.

The developers designed the questionnaire to be completed by the women themselves. It covers all areas of potential pelvic floor problems such as bladder function, bowel function, prolapse of the reproductive organs and sexual function. It measures the symptoms of dysfunction in the four listed areas as well as their severity, impact on the quality of life and nuisance by applying a four-point scale for each symptom. Lower scores mean fewer problems.

The lowest average scores in the study were found in the women who rode, while the highest average scores were in the group who were not physically active.

The most statistically significant difference between the women was found in bowel function. Problems with bowel movement consistency were significantly more common in the inactive women compared to the women who rode and the women who were physically active.

“In regard to sexual function, the women practicing horseback riding rated this function as slightly better than the women from the reference groups,” the study team wrote.

“However, this was not confirmed statistically,” they added. “These results confirm the observations indicating that horseback riding does not have a negative impact on this area of life for female recreational horseback riders.”

This finding is in line with the results obtained in 2009 research in this area, they noted.

The researchers said the survey results showed that recreational horseback riding does not affect the subjective sensation of the pelvic floor adversely. It does not result in increased symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction when compared with control groups.

“It is unknown whether such a risk could occur in women who undertake this type of activity later in life,” they said. “Therefore, further study should be undertaken to assess the influence of horseback riding on the pelvic floor in the period around and after menopause, which is critical for the appearance of dysfunction in this part of the body.”

The study team said it is also unknown what effect different riding techniques exert on the activity of the pelvic floor.

“In future studies, the pre-activity and reflex activity of pelvic floor muscles during horseback riding should therefore be analyzed, both in women with a properly functioning pelvic floor and in women with symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction.”

Such a study would allow researchers to assess the possible therapeutic potential of horseback riding in relation to pelvic floor dysfunction, they added.

“Based on this study,” they said, “it can be concluded that all of the pelvic floor related symptoms, their frequency, and severity levels do not qualify recreational horseback riding as being a risk factor for developing pelvic floor dysfunction in women.”

The study team comprised Urbowicz, who is with “Physiotherapy — A Strong Foundation”, a physiotherapy practice in Mikołów, Poland; Mariola Saulicz and Edward Saulicz, with the Institute of Physiotherapy and Health Sciences at the Jerzy Kukuczka Academy of Physical Education in Katowice, Poland; and Aleksandra Saulicz, with the School of Public Health and Social Work at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

Urbowicz, M.; Saulicz, M.; Saulicz, A.; Saulicz, E. Self-Assessment of the Pelvic Floor by Women Practicing Recreational Horseback Riding. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19, 2108. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19042108

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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One thought on “Women on horseback: How does it affect their pelvic floor?

  • February 16, 2022 at 1:33 am
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    Could you not find a group of women wearing helmets??

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