The Modern Equine Vet
October 2023
Vol 13 Issue 10 2023
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News Notes

Equine-Facilitated Therapy Improved Functioning of People With Low Back Pain

Patients with chronic low back pain may benefit from equine-facilitated therapy (EFT), a new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows. During a 12-week intervention, the perceived amount of pain decreased, and the ability of daily functioning improved among EFT participants.

The study set out to evaluate the impact of EFT on perceived physical performance, level of pain, pain acceptance, depression and anxiety, and quality of life. The study was conducted in Finland, and it involved a total of 22 men and women suffering from low back pain.

The 12-week intervention showed that EFT can be used to improve people’s daily functioning. Statistically significant improvement was observed in domains pertaining to sleep, reaching and bending forward, and standing for long periods.

By gradually increasing the exercise load, it was also possible to reduce patients’ perceived amount of pain, increase their participation in social activities, and improve their psychological well-being. During a 6-month follow-up, only 2 of the chronic pain patients returned to the clinic due to pain.

In the follow-up interviews, patients highlighted the perceived physical, psychological and social effects of EFT, showing that the intervention had a comprehensive impact on their rehabilitation.

Statistically significant quantitative improvement was observed for mental health: during the intervention, patients’ social functioning and depression improved.

“Chronic back pain is a multidimensional experience involving not only physical pain but also learned thinking patterns and emotional reactions. Traditionally, physical therapy has been recommended for the rehabilitation of patients with chronic pain, as physical exercise has been found to be the most effective way to treat spinal pain. Hippocrates already recommended using equine movement as a form of physical and psychological rehabilitation for people, but the exact reason behind the rehabilitative effect has remained unknown thus far,” said Sanna Mattila-Rautiainen, PhD, of the University of Eastern Finland.

Equine-facilitated therapy brought relief to patients with chronic pain who had been incapable of work for several years.

“Patients with chronic pain tend to avoid the sensation of pain that comes from moving the affected part of their body. However, when sitting on a moving horse, a person with low back pain will end up moving to the gait of the horse, which encourages the right kind of lumbar movement,” Dr. Mattila-Rautiainen said.

The compatibility of the patient with the horse’s movements, along with a suitable exercise load, played a key role in the intervention. The exercise load was gradually increased, within the limits of pain. MeV

For more information:
Mattila-Rautiainen S. Venojärvi, Rautiainen H, et al. The impact on physical performance, pain and psychological wellbeing of chronic low back pain patients during 12-weeks of equine-facilitated therapy intervention. Front Vet Sci. 2023 Mar 14. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2023.1085768