Dr. Campbell: Horseback riding and music therapy may improve outcomes after a stroke

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Nearly 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke every year and stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. If you survive a stroke, it can leave you severely debilitated—unable to move a limb or even walk or speak.

A new study suggests that the smooth stride of a gentle horse may help stroke survivors regain lost mobility and balance years after their event.

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1. What exactly is a stroke?

First of all, as doctors, we want for all of you to think of a stroke as a brain attack — just like a heart attack. In most cases, a stroke occurs when an artery that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked and brain tissue begins to die. When this happens, the only way to prevent permanent disability is to seek rapid treatment to unblock the brain artery with either a drug or a special catheter procedure that is done in a specialized hospital. Fortunately, we have many of these specialized hospitals such as Duke Medical Center in our area.

2. Tell us about the new study and how horseback riding plays a role in recovery?

Researchers found that two unconventional therapies — horseback riding and music-and-rhythm therapy — seemed to help many of these patients. For the study, 123 stroke survivors in Sweden were provided with either music therapy or horseback riding and then compared them group that stuck with standard care.

Six months later, patients who went through either the riding or music therapy showed better balance and mobility, versus those in the standard therapy group.

Importantly, these patients also felt better. After six months, 56 percent in the horseback riding group believed their stroke recovery had progressed, as did 43 percent in the music group. That compared with only 22 percent of patients in the standard care group.

The big news here is that physical therapists were able to see changes long after a stroke. However, the study is small and we must be careful drawing any big conclusions from it.

3. What are the warning signs of stroke and what should you do if you have any of these symptoms?

Stroke survival without permanent brain damage is all about time. If you have symptoms—call 911—just like you would for a heart attack.

The American Heart Association would like you to think FAST when you think that there is a stroke.

FAST stands for:

F — Facial drooping

A — Arm weakness

S — Speech difficulty

T — Time to call 911

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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