The Physical Effects of Hippotherapy on Multiple Sclerosis and Cerebral Palsy
Holden, Ashleigh A.
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Many scientists in the medical field are searching for alternate treatments in multiple fields, including physical therapy. An increasing number of people are pursuing alternate methods of healing and rehabilitation for various symptoms and diagnoses as a result. In this pursuit, an alternate form of physical therapy utilizing the movement of a horse has gained increasing attention and popularity. This form of therapy, called hippotherapy, started in Europe in the 1950s and gained popularity in the United States in the 1970s. Because a horse’s stride length and cadence at the walk mirrors that of humans, people with physical disabilities are placed on a horse to stimulate the proper alignment and movement of the human pelvis and spine to improve the balance, coordination, alignment, and range of motion needed for a normative walk and other various daily activities. Hippotherapy is a common treatment found in patients with cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis because the level of normative physical movement varies greatly between patients with these diagnoses. Due to the large variation, a common method of treatment for cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis is difficult to achieve through ordinary physical therapy practices, such as sitting on barrels or large exercise balls to stretch the trunk, adductor, and other leg muscles because such practices cannot easily vary the size and shape of a barrel nor the type of movement of an exercise ball. Because the trunk of a horse is similar to a barrel in shape, hippotherapy is more efficient for patients with these diagnoses because differently shaped and sized horses can be used according to the tightness or flaccidness of the patient. Horses also have a three dimensional movement at the walk: side-to side, up and down, and figure eight, which more accurately reflects human movement than an exercise ball. However, evidence for the efficiency of hippotherapy was virtually nonexistent until its recent popularity, due to a lack of proper equipment, creating a need for better and more efficient methods of gathering technology to gather data on how hippotherapy physically improves the handicapped human body.