Therapeutic riding programs help veterans cope with PTSD, study finds

February 8, 2018, University of Missouri-Columbia
Rebecca Johnson and her team determined that veterans had a significant decrease in PTSD scores just weeks after THR. Results show that therapeutic horseback riding may be a clinically effective intervention for alleviating PTSD symptoms in military veterans. Credit: MU College of Veterinary Medicine

In the United States, military veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often are prescribed therapeutic horseback riding (THR) as a complementary therapy, but little is known about how these programs affect PTSD in military veterans. Now, a University of Missouri study has determined that veterans had a significant decrease in PTSD scores just weeks after THR. Results show that therapeutic horseback riding may be a clinically effective intervention for alleviating PTSD symptoms in military veterans.

"PTSD is an anxiety disorder that occurs after exposure to life-threatening events or injuries and is marked by flashbacks, avoidance, and changes in beliefs and feelings," said Rebecca Johnson, a professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and the Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing in the Sinclair School of Nursing. "Estimates are that more than 23 million experience PTSD symptoms each year. While counseling and behavior therapies often are prescribed, sometimes clinicians will encourage complementary therapies, such as therapeutic horseback riding. We wanted to test whether THR could be a useful in the treatment of PTSD."

The interaction between horses and riders has been demonstrated to increase riders' confidence, self-esteem, sensory sensitivity and social motivation while decreasing stress. For the study, 29 military veterans were assessed for eligibility from a nearby Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. Those diagnosed with PTSD or PTSD with traumatic brain injury were invited to participate in a therapeutic horseback riding program once a week for six weeks.

PTSD symptoms then were measured both at three weeks and six weeks into the program using the PTSD Checklist-Military Version (PCL-M) assessment, a 20-item self-reporting survey that is used by clinicians to gauge PTSD symptoms. Additionally, other measurement instruments were used to assess improvements made in the treatment of the anxiety disorders.

"Results showed that participants in the program experienced a significant decrease in PTSD scores, almost 67 percent, after just three weeks of THR," Johnson said. "After six weeks, participants experienced an 87 percent drop in PTSD scores. Interestingly, the veterans who self-identified for the study all were from the Vietnam War era meaning that some of these military veterans had been experiencing PTSD symptoms for 40 or 50 years. It may be important for health care systems to support THR as a viable complimentary therapy."

The article, "Effects of therapeutic horseback riding on in military veterans," was published in Military Medical Research.

Explore further: Violence declines during intensive PTSD treatment, study says

More information: Rebecca A. Johnson et al. Effects of therapeutic horseback riding on post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans, Military Medical Research (2018). DOI: 10.1186/s40779-018-0149-6

Related Stories

Violence declines during intensive PTSD treatment, study says

December 22, 2017
Combat veterans diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced declines in violent behavior while undergoing treatment in an intensive Veterans Health Administration (VHA) PTSD program, according to a new ...

Prazosin doesn't alleviate distressing dreams in PTSD

February 8, 2018
(HealthDay)—Prazosin does not alleviate distressing dreams among veterans with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a study published in the Feb. 8 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Drug improves PTSD traits in rat model of explosive blasts

January 29, 2018
Male rats exposed to air blasts designed to mimic those from explosives used in recent military conflicts have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that are improved by a drug currently being evaluated in humans ...

Combat-related PTSD calmed by yoga therapy

November 8, 2017
For thousands of years, yoga has been used to calm both mind and body.

Ketamine not linked to PTSD in military trauma setting

October 17, 2017
(HealthDay)—Ketamine administration is not associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the military trauma setting, according to a study published online Oct. 3 in Anaesthesia.

Recommended for you

New genetic clues to early-onset form of dementia

December 13, 2018
Unlike the more common Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia tends to afflict young people. It accounts for an estimated 20 percent of all cases of early-onset dementia. Patients with the illness typically begin to ...

Researchers discover abundant source for neuronal cells

December 13, 2018
USC researchers seeking a way to study genetic activity associated with psychiatric disorders have discovered an abundant source of human cells—the nose.

Video game players frequently exposed to graphic content may see world differently

December 13, 2018
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, a UNSW-led study into the phenomenon of emotion-induced blindness has shown.

How teens deal with stress may affect their blood pressure, immune system

December 13, 2018
Most teens get stressed out by their families from time to time, but whether they bottle those emotions up or put a positive spin on things may affect certain processes in the body, including blood pressure and how immune ...

Increased motor activity linked to improved mood

December 12, 2018
Increasing one's level of physical activity may be an effective way to boost one's mood, according to a new study from a team including scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the ...

How bullying affects the brain

December 12, 2018
New research from King's College London identifies a possible mechanism that shows how bullying may influence the structure of the adolescent brain, suggesting the effects of constantly being bullied are more than just psychological.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.