Objectives: To investigate the immediate effects of 10 minutes of hippotherapy, compared with 10 minutes of barrel-sitting, on symmetry of adductor muscle activity during walking in children with cerebral palsy (CP) (phase I). To investigate the long-term effects of 12 weeks of hippotherapy on adductor activity, gross motor function, and self-concept (phase II).
Design: Pretest/posttest randomized controlled trial plus clinical follow-up.
Setting: Outpatient therapy center.
Participants: Children with spastic CP (phase I: n=47; phase II: n=6).
Interventions: Phase I: 10 minutes of hippotherapy or 10 minutes of barrel-sitting; phase II: 12 weekly hippotherapy sessions.
Main outcome measures: Phases I and II: adductor muscle activity measured by surface electromyography. Phase II: gross motor function and self-perception profiles.
Results: Phase I: hippotherapy significantly improved adductor muscle asymmetry (P<.001; d=1.32). Effects of barrel-sitting were not significant (P>.05; d=.10). Phase II: after 12 weeks of hippotherapy, testing in several functional domains showed improvements over baseline that were sustained for 12 weeks posttreatment.
Conclusions: Hippotherapy can improve adductor muscle symmetry during walking and can also improve other functional motor skills.