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Study Shows Therapeutic Horseback Riding (Hippotherapy) Improves Balance and More in People with MS

August 14, 2017

Background: Hippotherapy literally means “treatment with the help of the horse” from the Greek word “hippos,” meaning horse. This type of treatment uses a horse’s movements to achieve therapeutic goals. Physical therapists use hippotherapy to work on an individual’s balance and postural control; occupational therapists use it to work on fine motor control, attention and sensory integration; and speech-language therapists use the sessions to stimulate communication and cognitive skills.
The Study: In this study, 70 participants with MS and lower limb spasticity from five centers in Germany were randomly assigned to receive standard care plus one ½-hour session of hippotherapy per week, or just standard care, for 12 weeks. The primary outcome being measured was the effect on balance, and secondary outcomes included measures of fatigue, quality of life, pain and spasticity.
The results show that compared to the control group just receiving standard care, those who received hippotherapy plus standard care improved significantly in measures of balance, fatigue, spasticity and quality of life. Both groups experienced reductions in pain.
In terms of safety, one person in the hippotherapy group fell off the therapy horse but was able to continue the study. Two participants in the hippotherapy group experienced an MS relapse accompanied by painful muscle contractions.
The team (Vanessa Vermöhlen, University of Cologne, Germany, and colleagues) report their findings in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal (Published online August 3, 2017, available via Open Access).
Read more: Whether you enroll in an official therapeutic program or are just looking for venues in your community for access to horseback riding, the American Hippotherapy Association and the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship can provide information and resources.
- Read a Momentum article about “Horse Power”
- Read more about rehabilitation approaches for treating MS

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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