Clinical observations have suggested that hippotherapy may be an effective strategy for habilitating balance deficits in children with movement disorders. However, there is limited research to support this notion.
The purposes of this study were to assess the effectiveness of hippotherapy for the management of postural instability in children with mild to moderate balance problems and to determine whether there is a correlation between balance and function.
A repeated-measures design for a cohort of children with documented balance deficits was used.
Sixteen children (9 boys and 7 girls) who were 5 to 16 years of age and had documented balance problems participated in this study. Intervention consisted of 45-minute hippotherapy sessions twice per week for 6 weeks. Two baseline assessments and 1 postintervention assessment of balance, as measured with the Pediatric Balance Scale (PBS), and of function, as measured with the Activities Scale for Kids—Performance (ASKp), were performed.
With the Friedman analysis of variance, the PBS and the ASKp were found to be statistically significant across all measurements (P.0001 for both measures). Post hoc analysis revealed a statistical difference between baseline and postintervention measures (P.017). This degree of difference resulted in large effect sizes for PBS (d1.59) and ASKp (d1.51) scores after hippotherapy. A Spearman rho correlation of .700 indicated a statistical association between PBS and ASKp postintervention scores (P.003). There was no correlation between the change in PBS scores and the change in ASKp scores (rs.13, P.05).
The findings suggest that hippotherapy may be a viable strategy for reducing balance deficits and improving the performance of daily life skills in children with mild to moderate balance problems. Hippotherapy appears to be a viable treatment strategy for improving balance and functional performance of daily life skills in children with mild to moderate balance problems. The present study strengthens the evidence for using hippotherapy to treat balance deficits in children with neuromuscular disorders. Recommendations for future research include randomized controlled trials with larger numbers of children with a specific diagnosis and additional measures of body/structure and function as well as measures to assess changes in participation and quality of life.