Can Hippotherapy Improve Gait in Spastic Cerebral Palsy?

  • Janie Giraudon

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science


Spastic cerebral palsy (CP) accounts for 80% of all CP cases. This is characterised by an increased in spasticity, which manifests as an increase in resistance to fast stretch of a particular muscle group. Spasticity is known to contribute to gait abnormalities in individuals with cerebral palsy, resulting in altered gait such as toe walking, flexed-stiff knees, flexed hips, pelvic retraction and pelvic anterior tilt with lumbar lordosis. Spasticity can be difficult to treat and finding a new, non-invasive method to help reduce spasticity could be of great value to individuals with CP related gait abnormalities.

Hippotherapy, carried out with the involvement of a physiotherapist, is the use of horse riding to aid individuals with physical and sensory disabilities. Previous studies have found that hippotherapy can help improve muscle tone, postural control and stability in the rider.

There are two aims to this study: to investigate the effects of hippotherapy on spasticity and to ascertain whether these changes translate into an improved walking pattern.
Both quantitative and qualitative data was gathered for this research. The qualitative data was in the form of a questionnaire. To gather quantitative data, a number of methods were used. Firstly, saddle pressure measurements were taken using a pressure mat to measure the contact area and pressure distribution of participants during horse riding. This was placed on the saddle at the start and end of the 10-week hippotherapy block. The study uses pressure distribution and contact area as a measure of spasticity in the lower limbs.

Gait analysis using Vicon with 20 lower limb markers was used to identify any changes in gait. This was performed at the beginning and end of the 10-week horse-riding block. Pelvis, hip, knee and ankles angles in the sagittal, coronal and transverse plane were measured and the results from the beginning and the end of the hippotherapy block were compared.

Both qualitative and quantitative results of the study showed that participants experienced significant improvement in gait by the end of the hippotherapy block. Some negative results were also found which are outlined in this dissertation but remain inconclusive.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRami Abboud (Supervisor) & Graham Arnold (Supervisor)

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