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Hippotherapy for Stroke Patients

Hippotherapy is a physiotherapy treatment based on the use of the horse rhythmic movements. This technique has been used since 1960s for the treatment of cerebral palsy, as well as for the rehabilitation of patients after cerebrovascular disorders. Horseback riding helps patients improve balance, control their movements and restore muscle tone. Hippotherapy affects the patient's vestibular apparatus, has a proprioceptive and psychosomatic effect.

The basis for creating a rehabilitation technique was the observation that the horse's gait has a rhythmically repetitive structure, similar to the dynamics of a person's gait. Therefore, a patient suffering from gait disorders can be helped by joint movement with the horse - it will help restore normal balance and coordinate the posture.

Application of hippotherapy

First of all, hippotherapy is used to treat cerebral palsy. The technique brings fantastic results in the rehabilitation practice worldwide. Nonetheless, it is also difficult to overestimate the stimulation of restoring movement reflexes in patients undergoing rehabilitation after a stroke. Instinctive coordination of reactions, arising as a response to horse movements, trains the patient's ability to maintain balance and develop compensatory muscle contractions. Also, this specific stimulation helps patients to find and fix motor reactions closest to their habitual norm as quickly as possible. Another essential moment is that a horse stimulates soft and, at the same time, rapid recovery of muscle tone. This maximizes the available volume of motor activity in the joints. The result of such a complex musculoskeletal system development is the expressed improvement of almost all motor functions.

Restorative hippotherapy after stroke also gives a complex positive dynamics not only for the patient's physical status, but also for his psychoemotional state. Riding a horse promotes the maximum possible mobilization of volitional activity of the patient, his/her socializiation and formation of harmonious relations with the surrounding reality. In the course of training, the patient's motivation is significantly increased. Patient’s desire to achieve results is strengthened.

The horse moving together with the patient becomes a real source of vitality for the person. It awakens the desire to live, set new goals and reach them by overcoming which servces as psychological rehabilitation.

Scientific justification

A purely scientific explanation of hippotherapy usefulness exists. A big horse transmits to a rider about 110 vibrating impulses per minute along the length of the body axis, down-up (against gravity), along the front-transverse axis of the body, back and forth, around the saggital-transverse axis of the body from side to side. Moreover, diagonal movements occur around the functional points of the body center. Complex movements of the horse’s dorsal muscles, each of which consists of many elements, have a warming and massaging effect on the pelvic organs and the muscles of the rider's legs as well as increase the blood flow in his/her limbs.

The projection of the horse's movements on the seated person means its lumbar spine and hip joint imitates the movements that a healthy person does while walking. In other words, with a free landing on an unharnessed horse, riding replaces the typical walking exercise of the trunk. In order to maintain a correct landing during the ride, the rider must constantly maintain balance, synchronize and coordinate his movements. This allows you to include in the work all the muscles of the body - including those that, even without being damaged, are usually inactive. At the same time, horseback riding stimulates the development of fine motor skills, thereby contributing to restoring the patient's ability to perform complex and precise movements. Any other kind of motor therapy does not provide such effect.

Temperature of the horse’s body is 1.5-2 degrees higher than human body temperature. Taking into account this fact, one must remember such thing as "heated massage" - quite intense and deep, but at the same time, gentle and almost invisible for patient. It is also proved that the lungs start to work at full strength during riding, blood, brain and muscles are enriched with oxygen which is simply irreplaceable in rehabilitation after a heart attack or a stroke.

Hippotherapy helps to restore thinking, attention and memory. When riding, the patient must constantly maintain concentration on the task, which stimulates him to maximum self-organization and concentration, creates a need for planning and analyzing his own actions, activates mental processes. If the stroke caused a mental trauma - for example, the patient became closed and unsociable - regular communication with the horse will help him quickly return to social interaction.

Simultaneously, horseback riding develops self-confidence - when a patient with severely damaged and limited physical abilities, is able to control a powerful and beautiful animal, it becomes easier for him. Positive emotions, unusual experiences and sensations - all this helps patients who have suffered a stroke, feel full-fledged again, not constrained by the disease.

Efficiency of hippotherapy

In the course of half a century application in the rehabilitation practice worldwide, horseback riding has proved its effectiveness and uniqueness. The main results of therapy are:

  • Improvment of the patient's resistance to physical stress;
  • Recovery of muscular tonus;
  • Increase of patient‘s mobility and the total volume of his movements;
  • Improvement of patient’s coordinated movements;
  • Decrease of the severity;
  • Improvment of vascular apparatus function;
  • Improvement of the work of fingers and hands muscles (fine motor skills), restoration of the ability to perform most household procedures;
  • Increase in patient’s activity, the appearance of self-reliance;
  • Improvement in patient’s learning and level of care;
  • Reduction of patient's fears, excitability, aggression and isolation;
  • Teaching the patient new skills by distracting him from painful thoughts;
  • Restoration of the social activity of the patient.

See also information about other methods:

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