Equine-assisted Therapy for LEMS

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by Mary Chapman |

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Equine-assisted therapy involves activities with horses to promote the physical and mental health of riders. For people with Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS), this kind of therapy may help to improve balance, flexibility, and other functions, and has also been shown to provide an emotional boost.

What is LEMS?

LEMS is a progressive autoimmune disorder that affects the nerve cells that control muscle movement. Its primary symptoms include muscle weakness, fatigue, and pain.

About 60% of LEMS cases are associated with small cell lung cancer.

What is equine-assisted therapy?

Equine-assisted therapy includes a range of treatments, including hippotherapy — the use of a horse’s movement by physical and occupational therapists and other healthcare professionals to address impairments, functional limitations, and disabilities in people with neuromotor and sensory dysfunction.

The strategy is part of an integrated program to achieve functional goals and usually takes place one-on-one with the patient and therapist.

Adaptive riding is another therapeutic form in which a certified adaptive riding instructor teaches horseback riding skills to people with complex physical needs.

How could equine-assisted therapy help LEMS patients?

Equine-centered activities can particularly benefit people with developmental delays, sensory processing disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and neuromuscular disorders such as LEMS.

These activities can help keep patients mobile for as long as possible, and improve postural stability, core strength, and endurance. In some cases, horseback riding can simply help to restore joy in patients beset by chronic illness.

Riding a horse moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, so riders with physical needs often show improvement in flexibility, balance, and muscle strength.

How does equine-assisted therapy work?

Hippotherapy or adaptive riding involves assessing the patient’s balance, coordination, and physical limitations. The therapist or instructor will then choose the necessary equipment and suitable horse. Patients wear helmets and some may use specially adapted saddles.

How can patients participate?

Before starting equine-assisted therapy, patients are encouraged to consult with their physician to see if it’s appropriate for them.

Information about therapists, instructors, and facilities is available through the American Hippotherapy Association or the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.

Such therapy will likely be in conjunction with a physiotherapy program.

Questions to ask include:

  • Are the facility and trainer certified?
  • Is the center providing hippotherapy or adaptive riding?
  • Why kind of documents do I need to bring?
  • How long is a typical session?
  • Do sessions take place indoors or outdoors?
  • What safety precautions are in place?
  • What equipment do I need?


Last updated: March 8, 2021


Lambert-Eaton News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.