Spinal Cord Injury and Loss of Balance

I’ve been trying to post this since my first spinal cord injury. Very emotional. Any advice on a sudden loss of balance?

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I have Multiple Sclerosis. As far as I can remember I had a MS attack 65 years ago, my balance has always been really bad. I finally got diagnosed 29 years ago and my MS has progressed since. I am also pretty weak physically.

I do not know your medical situation. WHEN your doctor clears you to start gradual exercise this is what has helped me the past 29 years.

GET TWO CANES!!! You might need to introduce walking with two canes slowly since you will be using your arms and shoulders a lot more than normal. I find it is much easier to stay on my feet with two canes, and it is much easier for me to stand without swaying like a sapling in a brisk wind if I have two canes. I was able to work my way out of a crippling attack with two canes (electric wheelchair, wheeled walker, then 2 canes), which got me strong enough for my biggest help, riding a horse!

As for when your doctor clears you for riding I recommend the following, and if you doctor knows that you have this safety equipment he/she may clear you for riding sooner, in a ring, private lesson, with a decent instructor who is willing to learn something new (like my wonderful riding teacher.) It really helps if your riding instructor can be a position Nazi, a really good position can help regrow nerves properly and is much more secure than just trying to do it all by yourself.

Riding horses is the best therapy for my balance, and my neurologist and riding teacher agree with me. Most of my riding is at the walk. At the walk on horseback I can experiment on just how far I can move my body safely, if I topple too far forward the horse’s neck is there to stop me/help me push myself back. The horse’s mane is there if I start going too far in the other directions.

I have added safety equipment to my saddle. I have a RiderGrip (www.ridergrip.com) on each flap of my saddle, under my thighs and up into the knee roll. If needed I have a RiderGrip I can put on the seat of my saddle too but my riding teacher said no, she liked my seatbones just as they are. Along with my silicone full seat tights these keep me from slipping around in the saddle. It is so much easier to keep my balance if I have a “stable” point of reference.

I use stability stirrup leathers. If the wide part can wrap around my shin bone I am a lot more secure in the saddle. I had to get longer ones than recommended for my height to get them right.

My stirrups are the Tech Venice Slope, the slightly angled footbed puts my knees in the knee pads, the cheese-grater pads keep the stirrup in the proper position on my feet, they are slightly sloped to a heels down position, and they are a very good safety stirrup if I fall off the horse.

I have a RSTor riding aid on my saddle, for use if I fall off. I hold it in my hand at all times (the one time I didn’t I fell off, go figure). It does not keep me in the saddle, what it does is that when the rider falls off the grip on the RSTor rotates the rider’s body so they can land on their feet, not their back.

I also have a regular grab strap on my saddle if I need to hold on.

As for the inevitable muscle pains I have found the Back on Track stuff to be very effective, it even works on the pains from old age. I lie on the BOT mattress pad every night, I live in my BOT neck dicky, the BOT back brace (the more expensive one) really helps my back, etc., etc., etc… The BOT stuff has saved me a LOT of money since I do not need to buy OTC paid medicine.

Because I ride horses I can still walk on my own two feet, without the canes for a short distance if necessary. Lately my balance has actually improved somewhat, even my neurologist noticed it when I walked for him.

I also find that if I keep my FACE vertical my front to back balance is greatly improved.

Just be prepared to go SLOW at first, hours of walking, weeks of walking, months of walking, even years of walking on a horse will help you learn to adapt to whatever balance you have, PLUS it gets your body strong enough so you can stay upright.

Of course you might heal right up and not need this advice at all.

Good luck!!!

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Do you go to physiotherapy? Are your balance issues physical, or are they due to a problem with your concept of which way is up? I have had issues with vertigo and balance issues, and physiotherapy really helped me, an occupational therapist may also be of very good use for helping keep you safe and help you adapt.

In my physio, we do work to improve my proprioceptors, at first by simply standing with my feet together and closing my eyes for 6 seconds. Then open for 30 seconds. Repeat three times. I have to do it beside something I can use for balance. It sounds stupid, but it absolutely has helped me.

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Thank you. So much. How much your post ment to me.

Thank you so much for replying. I ended up with a second spinal cord injury. Early covid infection gave me long covid. So much unknown. No specialist wants to deal with me. So I walk. Stabilizing my core seems to be a good start.

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No personal experience, but I volunteered for a theraputic riding program & saw some pretty great results in my 6mo tenure.
Students went from only being able to lie across a bareback pad (with side walkers) to sitting upright in a saddle.
Something about the horse’s motion helps develop stability.
Wishing you success in your healing journey
:heavy_heart_exclamation::pray:

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When my mare had a serious brain injury and had difficulty keeping her balance (falling down in the stall as she attempted to move), my limited research into what might help her to survive suggested the use of valium to “calm the inner ear”. This was from it’s use in humans for this purpose, not horses. But my vet got it for me to use, and I believe it helped her. Good luck!

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I seem to have long Covid too @Katis. I has caused me additional neurological complications, rather subtle ones, but since I’ve spent decades learning to deal with no balance from my MS I cope.

It REALLY helps to have all this stuff on my saddle, especially the RiderGrips, when my sense of balance goes completely the grips help keep me centered in the saddle and I don’t slide off to one side or another or go splat.

When you are cleared to get back riding do not feel useless or inferior. The vast majority of horses I’ve ridden in the past 15 years have NOT had much training at the walk. Most of my rides are at a walk and slow trot, turns in place, backing up and some two track, and I concentrate on teaching the horses the ABCs of my aids at the walk. That gives me enough time to practice being coordinated and it helps fill in the gaping holes I find with most of the lesson horses I ride.

Riding at a walk is GOOD for both horse and rider.

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I had a spinal cord injury almost three years ago now, T6 incomplete. I spent 3 months in hospital and another 3 months in a wheel chair then a walker before I could even consider getting on my horse but I did!! I needed lots of helpers at first and walked on a lead line but riding is an amazing therapy and it alone will help your balance and get you in a better place emotionally too.

Physiotherapy is still my life lol but I was and still am, committed to teaching my brain to rewire itself beyond the original injury. There are so many exercises specific to improving your proprioception and your balance and I can’t recommend enough getting a team involved to help you if you can. I do Pilates regularly with a personal trainer and as homework and there are a lot of exercises you can do lying on the floor or with an exercise ball that will strengthen your core and activate all the small muscles that play a part in improving your balance. Massage therapy also helps me by activating specific muscles and stimulating the nerves as they continue to heal and come back on line especially in my feet. I will be swimming this summer and will get my physiotherapist to give me exercises that I can do in the pool, I am hoping that will improve some of my hip flexibility. The latest challenge is doing things with my eyes closed (a real work in progress) and standing on one foot.
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One thing I know is that every spinal cord injury is different but I have made some pretty amazing progress and way beyond the 12 to 18 months the doctors told me to expect. I bought a western saddle for more support and took up Western Dressage. I was a hunter rider as a kid and had moved to dressage as I got older because I didn’t bounce so well anymore. I have been showing again and can walk, trot and canter where no one would really know that I can’t always feel my feet or know where they are. I hack just about anywhere and I can mount and dismount, using a mounting block by myself and can groom, tack up and bathe my horse without help. I can even walk him out to the back pasture and put him out. My coach has para experience so that has really helped and my physiotherapist has even come to watch me ride to see where I might need specific exercises to address certain challenges. My horse is a saint so that does help but it has been a journey.

I am so grateful for what I can do and the best advice I can offer is to just keep going and give yourself time!! It is so hard when you can’t stand without holding onto things and feel like your always going to end up ass over tea kettle but keep working on it. Little milestones and improvements give way to bigger changes and better mobility. I still remember walking on the grass unassisted for the first time. Hang in there, as horse people we are a pretty gritty bunch so use that and good luck. You got this!!

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Thank you for this post.

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Thank you. Really appreciate all advice.

This long covid. What a nightmare. Taken so much away. Thank you. Will take my time reading through all if these wonderful answers. And yes, I thought that I was a complete failure when i suddenly lost my balance.

Thank you. Was awful as I was just starting my Jazz mare. Really want to take my time reading. Thank you for your time and thoughts; very appreciated.

Hi @Katis, I was thinking of you yesterday when all of a sudden my body went “balance? What in the world is balance?”

My head started swimming mildly. I did not really know where all my body was.

I coped. What helped me most during my unbalanced episodes was imitating my 2-point position. This does two things, it lowers my center of gravity and my body feels like it has a bigger area of support. That, combined with “furniture walking” and “wall walking” using my hands got me through without major problems.

Of course what helped me the most was riding a horse this morning. By the time I walk this elderly arthritic mare over somewhat uneven ground in 2-point my legs and pelvis KNOW WHERE THEY ARE and I am walking with more security.