How Animals Are Enhancing Physical and Occupational Therapy

One of the more unique aspects of occupational and physical therapy jobs is the ability to be as creative as necessary to get the job done. Yes, both types of therapists work within a certain set of parameters. But they are also encouraged to use creative ways to effectively treat patients. More and more, animals are being used to enhance both physical and occupational therapy.

Medical science has long known that animals can have a therapeutic effect on patients in certain settings. But today’s therapists are learning to go above and beyond what we think we know. They are using animals in new and exciting ways to help all sorts of patients undergoing what can often be arduous therapy.

This post discusses two examples below. If you are thinking of a career in permanent or locum tenens physical or occupational therapy, this might be right up your alley. Incorporating animals into therapy sessions is rife with possibilities.

Spinal Cord Injuries in Alabama

The first example comes by way of an ongoing research project at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Researchers have teamed up with a local animal-assisted therapy provider known as Hand in Paw to study how therapy animals might assist in the rehabilitation efforts of patients recovering from traumatic spinal cord injuries (SCIs).

UAB says that a typical SCI patient spends 35 days in the hospital. Length of stay and the difficulty of rehabilitation combine to make for a very emotionally and physically demanding experience. In addition, patients are at a higher risk of psychological stress as a result of what they’re going through.

To help combat this stress, researchers introduced therapy dogs during rehab sessions. Then they studied 31 patients over four occupational therapy sessions, evaluated them in terms of their emotions and pain perceptions. Researchers also measured patient cortisol levels to determine how stressed they were.

Guess what they discovered?  Patients who interacted with the dogs were less stressed. They reported less pain and unpleasantness following rehab. Finally, they demonstrated an overall positive perception after having worked with the animals.

Therapy Horses in Texas

Next up is a Texas organization originally established by a licensed physical therapist, now trying to reopen after its founder took several years off due to undergoing cancer treatments. Ride On, Inc. is a nonprofit that utilizes therapy horses to help young patients with special needs improve their confidence and work on muscle tone.

A nonverbal autistic child can gain confidence by working with horses in a corral. A child with muscular dystrophy can improve muscle tone and body control by learning to ride. By all reports, it’s amazing to see how so many special-needs kids have been served by the organization over the years.

Working with horses gives special needs kids an opportunity to interact with animals that have no preconceived notions of patient conditions. It allows them to channel their energies into something that is positive, educational, and emotionally rewarding.

Something Special About Animals

Whether you’re talking therapy dogs in a hospital or therapy horses on a rural farm, there is something special about animals and how they interact with human beings. Perhaps one of the reasons we find them so therapeutic is the simple fact that they can just be there for us.

Physical and occupational therapists have been using a variety of animals to enhance what they do for quite some time. Today, they are finding even more creative ways to utilize everything from dogs to horses. It turns out that animals really can enhance physical and occupational therapy.

Back To Top