A new study published in Stroke, suggests stroke survivors may benefit from the non-traditional therapy of horseback riding to regain mobility.
Horse riding therapy produces a multisensory environment for those recovering from the serious brain trauma. The three-dimensional movements of the horse’s back create a sensory experience that closely resembles the human gait.
Researchers said combining different activities and stimuli appear to produce beneficial effects for patients’ stroke recovery. They engaged patients in physical, sensory, cognitive, and social activities simultaneously.
None of the study’s patients were severely disabled but were challenged by lingering issues like balance and memory. All suffered a stroke 10 months to five years earlier.
“Significant improvements are still possible, even years after a stroke, using motivating, comprehensive therapies provided in stimulating physical and social surroundings to increase brain activity and recovery,” said Michael Nilsson, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Hunter Medical Research Institute and professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia and University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Researchers randomly assigned 123 Swedish stroke survivors to one of three therapy groups: horse riding; rhythm-and-music, and standard care.
The patients who rode horses twice a week over the three months said they saw improvements in their balance, walking, strength, and cognition.
The researchers said 56% of the stroke survivors in the horseback riding group believed their stroke recovery progressed; 38% perceived they improved in the rhythm-and-music-therapy group, and 17% of the standard care group thought they improved. The perception of improvement lasted through their six-month follow-up.
Researchers are planning additional studies to determine treatment efficiency, timing, and costs.