This research review and meta-analysis presents an overview of the effects of hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding (THR) on postural control or balance in children with cerebral palsy (CP).
To synthesize previous research findings, a systematic review and meta-analysis were undertaken. Relevant studies were identified by systematic searches of multiple online databases from the inception of the database through to May 2010. Studies were included if they fulfilled the following criteria: (1) quantitative study design, (2) investigation of the effect of hippotherapy or THR on postural control or balance, and (3) the study group comprised children and adults with CP. The selected articles were rated for methodological quality. The treatment effect was coded as a dichotomous outcome (positive effect or no effect) and quantified by odds ratio (OR). The pooled treatment effect was calculated using a random-effects model. Meta-regression of the effect size was performed against study covariates, including study size, publication date, and methodological quality score.
From 77 identified studies, 10 met the inclusion criteria. Two were excluded because they did not include a comparison group. Therapy was found to be effective in 76 out of 84 children with CP included in the intervention groups. The comparison groups comprised 89 children: 50 non-disabled and 39 with CP. A positive effect was shown in 21 of the children with CP in the comparison group regardless of the activity undertaken (i.e. physiotherapy, occupational therapy, sitting on a barrel or in an artificial saddle). The pooled effect size estimate was positive (OR 25.41, 95% CI 4.35, 148.53), demonstrating a statistically significant effectiveness of hippotherapy or THR in children with CP. Meta-regression of study characteristics revealed no study-specific factors
The eight studies found that postural control and balance were improved during hippotherapy and THR. Although the generalization of our findings may be restricted by the relatively small sample size, the results clearly demonstrate that riding therapy is indicated to improve postural control and balance in children with CP.
In this review article all the research data on the influence of hippotherapy and THR on postural control or balance, on intervention and comparison groups, length of each session and duration of hippotherapy and THR, and tests used as the main source for proof of the effects or measurements are collected. What becomes evident throughout the period of demonstration and measurement of the effectiveness of both hippotherapy and THR is that the intervention and comparison sample sizes are too small, and the population with CP extremely diverse. This is reflected in the complexity of management of this population regardless of the form of treatment, not only hippotherapy and THR. This research evidence and meta-analysis suggest that clinicians and therapists can recommend either hippotherapy or THR as forms of therapy to improve posture and balance, and consequently to influence functioning in activities of daily life and quality of life in children with CP.