The purpose of this study was to determine whether hippotherapy has an effect on the general functional development of children with cerebral palsy.
The study employed a repeated-measures design with two pre-tests and two post-tests conducted 10 weeks apart using the Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory (PEDI) and the Gross Motor Function Measure (GMFM) as outcome measures. A convenience sample of 10 children with cerebral palsy participated whose ages were 2.3 to 6.8 years at baseline (mean SD 4.1 1.7). Subjects received hippotherapy once weekly for 10 weeks between pre-test 2 and post-test 1. Test scores on the GMFM and PEDI were compared before and after hippotherapy.
One-way analysis of variance of group mean scores with repeated measures was significant (p 0.05) for all PEDI subscales and all GMFM dimensions except lying/rolling. Post hoc analyses with the Tukey test for honest significant differences on the PEDI and GMFM total measures as well as GMFM crawling/kneeling and PEDI social skills subtests were statistically significant between pre-test 2 and post-test 1.
The results of this study suggest that hippotherapy has a positive effect on the functional motor performance of children with cerebral palsy. Hippotherapy appears to be a viable treatment strategy for therapists with experience and training in this form of treatment and a means of improving functional outcomes in children with cerebral palsy, although specific functional skills were not investigated. From the results of this study, the use of hippotherapy could be a viable treatment strategy for a physical therapist with special training, clinical experience, and expertise to achieve functional outcomes for young children with CP, although the specific functional areas that might improve were not studied. Because treatment intervention for CP typically focuses on maximizing potential through improving functional ability, hippotherapy has the potential to be a valuable treatment intervention that maximizes function through actively engaging children in a motivating setting. The positive results of this study support the use of hippotherapy as a treatment strategy within the limitations described.