Horseback riding may improve gross motor and balance skills in children with cerebral palsy (CP), but no changes were seen in psychosocial or emotional measures, according to a study, “Effects of Hippotherapy on Psychosocial Aspects in Children With Cerebral Palsy and Their Caregivers: A Pilot Study,” published in the journal Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine.
Hippotherapy is a type of rehabilitation in which subjects ride horses with assistance and a physician’s prescription. Because the pelvic movements of a horse rider are similar to those required for locomotion, hippotherapy is known to help balance and postural control in CP children, but little is known about its effects on psychosocial parameters.
Researchers at Wonkwang University School of Medicine and Hospital, Korea, tested hippotherapy effects on CP children, focusing not only on functional and balance improvements, but also on changes in concentration, confidence, motivation, and in the sense of accomplishment. Since most parents of disabled children show symptoms of depression, they also examined whether improvements in a child’s quality of life and self-esteem would have a positive impact on the emotional and psychosocial parameters of their parental caregivers, especially their mothers.
Investigators, led by Hyo In Park, MD, recruited eight children with CP, who took part in once-weekly, 30-minute hippotherapy sessions for 10 consecutive weeks at an indoor riding arena. Results found significant improvements in balance and gross motor function, with particularly dramatic progress in walking, running, and jumping. However, no significant improvements were observed in the children’s daily life activities or on psychosocial parameters, and consistently, no effects were identified in the psychological or emotional status of their mothers.
The study’s authors believe that increasing the therapy’s frequency and duration may be key to achieving not only physical improvements, but social and emotional ones as well, increasing the children’s social activities and enabling hobbies. Improvements in these areas, in turn, may ameliorate emotional stress on their parents.
“Hippotherapy showed a positive effect on gross motor function and improved balance but we could not verify improvement in psychosocial parameters, such as depression, anxiety, and quality of life, in children and their caregivers, as a result of the therapy,” the researchers concluded. “Future study targeting more children with CP with more intensive hippotherapy is required.”