We all hear how important it is to have a strong core. But why? What is our core? How does equine therapy help? Following are some answers to these questions:
Being able to perform functional movements and activities is dependent upon our core/postural system. The core is a complex series of muscles which are located primarily in the abdomen and mid/lower back. The diaphragm, which assists respiration, is part of the core.
The primary function of the core is for anatomical alignment and support. The core is most often a stabilizer vs. a prime mover. Core stability controls the position and movement of the central body.
Think about the action of throwing a ball. Your arm is the prime mover and completes the action of throwing the ball but, without stabilization from your core, your body would move forward with the momentum from your arm. The core maintains alignment of the trunk and sustains a stable force against resistance.
In patients with core weakness the body has difficulty sustaining alignment against resistance, which can simply be the force of gravity. This can impact the ability to maintain a sitting position, or move to effectively. Sometimes individuals with a weak core will recruit the diaphragm as a postural support assist. (Think about how many of us hold our breath when we attempt to do something difficult like lifting a heavy load.) The primary function of the diaphragm is to help with respiration and secondarily, speech. If the diaphragm is busy being a postural muscle it is unable to perform its true purpose.
Hippotherapy, or equine assisted therapy, uses the movement of the horse to stimulate activation of the muscles in the core. As the horse moves forward the patient must activate muscles or will fall backward. Hippotherapy is the only form of treatment that can provide continuous stimulation of the core muscles over an extended period of time. Repeated activation over time = strengthening. As core muscles are activated and strengthened, the clinician introduces functional activities that reinforce the use of the core as a stabilizer.
This is one reason that in hippotherapy one hears a significant increase in vocalization and speech sounds. Additionally, with improved core stability the patient can perform more functional tasks with greater success such as sitting, walking, and reaching.
To learn more, ask your therapist, hippotherapy clinician, or one of the excellent therapists at Country Kids.
Lisa Kafka, OTR, HPCS