Friday, 16 June 2017

Horse and Music Therapy May Help Stroke Patients

Conventional wisdom would tell you that stroke patients only have a limited time and capacity to recover lost physical and mental functions. Now, a new study suggests that horseback riding and music and rhythm therapy, which are not typically used in stroke recovery, may improve outcomes even in people who are years post-event.

"Normal" methods in stroke recovery start as soon as the patient is awake and stable. What this involves depends on the damage: speech and language therapy if those centres of the brain were affected; physical therapy if limb function was damaged; or help in getting back to work, among other things. As stroke survivors usually do not continue rehab for too long, it isn't clear whether or not the same approaches will work for later stages of recovery. The "normal" opinion is that the potential for recovery is limited. Fortunately for too many, researchers are increasingly looking at "late-phase" recovery, as knowledge of neuroplasticity grows. Neuroplasticity gives us the ability to recover from injury by working around the damage and even growing new neurons (see: The Brain That Changes Itself).

Source: David Blaikie (CC 2.0)
For this study, conducted in Sweden, researchers randomly assigned 123 stroke survivors to horseback riding, music and rhythm therapy, or conventional care. Patients in both treatment groups met with their therapists twice a week for 12 weeks. Although it was only for three months, after six months, patients lucky enough to be in the horse riding or music therapy groups showed better balance and mobility than the control group. They were also more likely to rate their recovery as having progressed, with 56% and 43% noticing improvement respectively, compared to only 22%. Despite this being a small study, the results are promising, but music therapy was deemed more feasible because of the setting and cost required for horse riding. Both of them stimulate the body and mind in ways that can aid neuroplasticity. This form of music therapy requires participants to move their hands and feet in patterns based on cues in the music and visual instruction. Horse riding simulates normal human walking, without having to move yourself. While music therapy was seen as more widely available, regions such as Queensland in Australia already have programs such as Riding for the Disabled. Many people who join this program see improved physical function, including better reflexes, increased range of motion and stretching of spastic or overly tight muscles. And unlike traditional therapy, it's fun!

This is not the first study to show functional improvement with horse riding after stroke. A smaller one, published in 2015, assigned ten patients to 30 minutes of horse riding a day, 5 days a week, for six weeks (the other ten were the control group). The group who got to ride horses showed significant improvement in gait, balance and activities of daily living, both compared to their abilities before and to the control group. While these were relatively small gains, the trial was only for six weeks. Overall, research may be in its early stages, but horse riding could be a great new hobby and therapy for stroke survivors, as it can do more than just standard therapy alone.

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