Children with cerebral palsy showed improvement after hippotherapy sessions
In a study designed to measure the trunk and head stability changes in children with cerebral palsy after 12 weeks of hippotherapy treatments, researchers hypothesized that if trunk stability improved, then functional use of the arms and hands might also show improvement.
The study team used a motorized barrel and Video Motion Capture (VMC) to challenge and measure the changes in motor control of the trunk that might have been learned on a horse. “Our VMC system is the same technology that is used to animate movies and video games,” says Tim L. Shurtleff, OTD, OTR/L, head researcher, along with Jack R. Engsberg, PhD. “It uses six cameras that ‘see’ small reflective markers on anatomical landmarks of the head, trunk, arms and hands. VMC enables very precise and objective measurement of the movement of the body and its parts.”
Subjects were tested before and after participating in 12 weeks of hippotherapy sessions and then again after another three months of not riding horses.
The team reports that the group of 11 children showed a significant difference between pre- and post-hippotherapy testing. “On average they have reduced movement at the head and upper trunk by 1/3 of their pre-hippotherapy movement while being challenged by the reciprocating movement of the barrel,” reports Shurtleff. “Their control of their heads has improved significantly, and the range of motion of the head (highest and lowest head angles compared to the horizontal) and their movement variability (standard deviation of all angles through the timed test) decreased significantly. They also do not drop their heads as much forward, another significant result.”
Eight of the children returned for a last test three months after therapy treatments ended. “Preliminary results show that all these changes have persisted and remain statistically significant after the three month washout period after they stopped riding horses,” Shurtleff says. “The take home message is … that hippotherapy improves motor control of the head and trunk and that the improvement sticks.”
“We are very grateful to the Horses & Humans Research Foundation for funding this project and believe that the results will provide valuable objective evidence for the efficacy of hippotherapy as well as validating this measurement methodology for future studies,” concludes Shurtleff.
The Human Performance Laboratory at the Program in Occupational Therapy of Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, MO) conducted the study, funded by the Horses and Humans Research Foundation’s 2006 research grant.