As a horse owner, rider, and remedial massage therapist (for humans and equines), I get to observe first hand the physical demands that are part and parcel of the farrier’s profession. Farriery can be extremely taxing to muscles and joints, not to mention the odd injury sustained by a pull from a horse when you’re in an awkward position!
Because a farriers shoeing stance is such an unnatural position for the body to maintain for long periods, the body receives stresses it would never normally have to endure. As time goes on, these minor stresses and strains (and sometimes major ones) become unwelcome aches and pains that begin to ‘set’ the body into postures unfriendly to proper pain free functioning. Free movement that once was in all the joints of your body is now decreasing, this movement is what physical therapists call ‘Range of Motion’ (ROM). The decrease of ROM results every time a muscle becomes tight and tense and refuses to return to its original elastic state. When this happens over and over again to already shortened muscles, you can imagine that the result will be PAIN and STIFFNESS!
If you want to carry on shoeing horses in your advanced years, you’d better start doing something about it now! So, what can you do about it? Well, if the performance horse that you shoe has a ‘team’ to help it achieve its best (e.g. the vet, the trainer, the farrier, a soft tissue therapist, etc.), you should too. This could and perhaps should include therapists such as, your doctor, a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, a podiatrist (which of course is what farriers are to the horse), an osteopath, a remedial massage therapist among many other beneficial therapists too many to mention here. You can also help yourself by practising stretches daily at home in your own time.
So why stretch? Stretching plays an important role in the prevention of injury and is a key factor in recovery. Loss of muscle elasticity, shortening, and scarring can render you susceptible to injury. Stretching helps muscles function at optimal levels which is essential in minimising soft-tissue trauma. If muscles cool after exercise without being stretched, they shorten and become tight. Stretching after exercise, when soft tissues are still warm, will help facilitate quicker recovery and improve flexibility. This is why stretching daily will help you improve your physical well being.
Many people stretch incorrectly, believing that it must hurt to be effective. Actually, the opposite is true, stretching must be comfortable. If the muscle you are stretching hurts, the body’s natural response will be to tighten up to prevent any further lengthening, and possible injury to that muscle. You should only stretch a muscle to a point where you begin to feel some resistance to further stretching, this ‘point’ is referred to as the ‘soft tissue barrier’. The soft tissue barrier is the starting point for any stretch.
There are many types of stretching used today, the type we will look at is known as static stretching. This is where the muscle being stretched is lengthened slowly and held ‘still’ in a comfortable range for 30 to 60 seconds (1-2 minutes, or longer, is better). As the position is held, the feeling of stretch diminishes, and the stretcher moves gently into a deeper stretch and holds again. I might add that there is a small but important part in the stretching sequence that should be included. This is that after the ‘first’ stretch, and between every following stretch, you should let the tension off the muscle completely and let it rest for a few seconds. This is to ‘reset’ the muscle to its new length before attempting to stretch it again. Therefore, you will get a better result by giving the muscle the chance to ‘catch up’ with what is happening to it.
Along with my advocation of stretching, there are also precautions one must consider.
DO NOT stretch an area in question if…
- a bone blocks motion (eg calcification within the joint)
- you recently fractured a bone
- you suspect or know of an acute inflammatory of infectious process in or around a joint
- you have osteoporosis
- you experience sharp, acute pain with joint movement or muscle elongation
- you’ve had a recent sprain or strain
- your joint lacks stability
- you experience a loss of function or decrease in range of motion, or
- you suffer from certain vascular or skin diseases.
These precautions are matters of professional medical opinion, not established fact. If you have any doubts or questions about whether a stretch is right for you, consult a qualified physical therapist, fitness trainer, or medical professional.
You may like to investigate the texts that appear at the end of this article under ‘references’.
In this article we will look at a pair of muscles collectively known as the Iliopsoas (ilio-so-as), which are individually called the Iliacus and the Psoas major. These two muscles work together as a team in the action of flexing the hip. They attach the lumbar vertebrae (lower spine) and inner surface of the hip (pelvis) to the femur (thigh bone). (See Figure 1.0).
In Farriers, the iliopsoas continually works in a shortened position. This leads to increased muscle tightness and can result in low back pain. This is true of horse riders as well, because there is a decrease in angle between the trunk of the body and the thigh. Sustaining this position for extended periods creates similar pain patterns as mentioned above. So it’s not only farriers, but also riders, that should perform stretches for the Iliopsoas on a regular basis.
To practice the stretch for the Iliopsoas, look at the directions given with the diagrams (Fig.1.1 & Fig. 1.2). Then follow the steps given in the How to perform the stretch section.
Points to remember when stretching
- Stretching should be done when your muscles are warm. (Recent research shows that it’s very important to stretch after activity even more than before activity).
- You should wear clothes that comfortably allow for enough movement to carry out the stretches being performed. Doing stretches in jeans is not a great idea, they just don’t ‘give’ well.
- Be aware of the ‘footing’ or other surface / bench / rug / or couch that you intend to do the stretch on. You don’t want to lose your balance or have the object you are using slip out from under you and cause you to fall.
- Go into each stretch slowly and in a controlled manner and come out of it the same way.
- During stretching, your breathing should be slow and rhythmical, e.g. don’t hold your breath!
- Do not make unrealistic demands of yourself by thinking you are more flexible than you really are and force yourself too much. Little and often is better.
- Keeping yourself well hydrated benefits muscle health tremendously. So remember to keep topping up on water ALL DAY LONG! This does not mean water that you have in tea or coffee, these types of drinks (including coca-cola) only serve to dehydrate the body. Only water is the key.
How to perform the stretch
- Firstly, take note of the points mentioned earlier.
- Then assume the position of the stance shown in the diagram.
- Move slowly into the stretch until you feel that the muscle is beginning to be stretched.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds. It is preferable that your hold the stretch until you feel a reduction in tightness, this can take several minutes (much more than 60 seconds). You must hold still during the stretch (e.g. no bouncing).
- Then release the stretch for about 5 seconds.
- Reposition yourself into the original stance, and repeat the stretch. The second time around you may find that you can take the stretch further.
Figure 1.1 Stretch No.1.
Stretch number 1
- Kneel on the floor.
- Flex one leg at the hip, keeping this front knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Roll your back foot under so that the top of the instep rests on the floor.
- Place your hands on your hips (or one hand on your forward knee and one hand on your buttocks)
- Exhale and push the front of the hip of your back leg forward.
- It may help to imagine that you have a ‘tail’ and that this tail of yours is a very heavy tail and is pulling down on the back of your pelvis as you push forward with your hip. This visualization will help you to isolate the iIiopsoas from the quadriceps muscles in achieveing the correct stretch.
Figure 1.2 Stretch No.2.
Stretch number 2
- Lie on your back on the edge of a table, allowing your outside leg to hang over the side of the table at the hip.
- Inhale, flex the opposite knee, and slowly compress your thigh to your chest.
- If your iliopsoas is tight, you should feel this tightness in the front area of the hip of the leg that is hanging off the table.
Alter, M J. (1990). (2nd ed). Sport Stretch: 311 Stretches for 41 Sports. IL, USA: Human Kinetics.
Foley-Chell, K. (2000). Functional Anatomy: Reflexes and Stretching. TAFE Illawarra, Goulburn NSW. Lecture Notes.
Key, S. (1993). Body In Action. Moorebank, NSW: Bantam.
McAtee, R, E. & Charland, J. (1999). (2nd ed). Facilitated Stretching: Assisted and unassisted PNF stretching made easy. IL, USA: Human Kinetics.
The text presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advise. Do not use this information to treat any health problems. Please consult your health care provider if you are in any doubt regarding any of this information.
Elvira Erdmanis is a remedial massage therapist who is based in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Elvira is qualified to treat both the equine client as well as the usual two legged human variety. Questions or further information can be directed to Elvira by telephone on 0418 161 884 or by email to