Riding Fit

My Aching Knees

Help for a rider with painful knees after practicing with heel-down stirrups.


Has anyone ever heard of heel-down stirrups  (a special stirrup you can buy for English saddles that is contoured to enforce proper foot positioning) causing or contributing to knee problems in riders? I'm trying to figure out if the stirrups are causing me problems, or is it that I'm just getting longer in the tooth.? I can't remember having this issue before I switched to heel downs. I've been riding them for six, maybe as long as 10 years.

Thank you.

Greg Gaston



Knees can take such a beating from riding, even if you aren't 'long in the tooth!'

Here is what is happening.  Imagine yourself just standing -- feet parallel, knees over feet, right below hips, and so on. This is considered neutral for the joints in your body. When you mount up, take notice in the change of your alignment. Your hips are open (abducted), the knee, slightly bent in flexion, is wrapped around your horse, and your ankles are hanging below your knees. Even though it seems like the knees are not that compromised, that "wrapped" feeling around the horse translates to stress around the joint. Now add to that the motion of posting. The knee cap is now tracking up and down to the posting rhythm, but since you are no longer in neutral, it is forced to take a different track that over time causes some wear and tear. If you place your hand on top of your knee while seated in a chair and ask for the leg to extend out you might feel, or even hear, some crunchiness in the joint. Condromalatia is the result of the patella (knee cap) forced out of neutral glide as the knee goes from flexion to extension.

So, Greg, it could be that the stirrups are contributing to the increased knee pain, but since I have never had an experience with them, I cannot say for sure. I would suggest going back to your old stirrups and doing a little experiment. Meanwhile, ice those knees just like you would do for your four-legged friend and get a little recovery time before you try your experiment.

Good Luck!

-- Emily J. Harrington, CPT, Equestrienne Fitness Trainer

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