Osteopaths test a mechanical horse for back pain
A machine that simulates horse riding is being used to help people suffering from back pain. Early results from trials using the iJoyRide have shown that the device - a sort of electronic bronco - can help to improve the mobility of sufferers and reduce their dependence on painkillers.
Gary Lutz, an osteopath who is testing the machine with a leading British university, explains: 'It exercises the muscles and structure of the back in a similar way to the work of an osteopath or physiotherapist. It's a bit like having either one of us in your home available to use any time you want.'
People with back pain or those who suffer from the stiffness of hip disease often develop a shortened stride as a result of the associated discomfort.
In trials of the machine, the patients' stride increased by up to ten inches, an indication of improved mobility.
One of those who has benefited from the new treatment is Meriel Pitcher, 53, from High Wycombe, Bucks. She has Stickler Syndrome, which means her body doesn't produce enough of the material that holds bones and joints together.
As a result she has restricted mobility — but within a week of starting to use the machine, she says the back pain from which she has suffered for 14 years has disappeared.
'I've found it very good at loosening the hips and keeping them supple,' she explains.
'It has come a little late for me, because I will still need to have both my hips replaced, but it has brought pain relief.'
The manufacturers claim that users of the electronic bronco will start to feel the benefit to their backs and abdominal muscles after a couple of weeks.
They recommend using it twice a day for 15 minutes for eight weeks as part of a musclestrengthening programme. Afterwards 15 minutes a day is sufficient to keep the back and abdominal muscles in good shape.
Mark Bailey, a London-based exercise coach who has tested the machine, explains: 'It mimics the way our muscular-skeletal system should be in real life and gets it out of its sedentary state.
'Slouching at a desk, for instance, puts a huge amount of added strain on the lower back.
'By using the machine, you are forced to sit up straight and not slump. If you slumped while using it or, indeed, when you were riding a horse, you'd simply fall off.' The machine comes with a choice of four speeds — walking, trotting, galloping and one containing a medley of different riding actions.
It works by strengthening the abdominal muscles just below the belly button. These bear much of the body's weight and are the key to correct posture. They also affect the distribution of weight in the lower back and will have an impact on the hips, reducing wear and tear.
'Strong abdominal muscles will help in preventing future back problems such as slipped discs,' says Mr Bailey.
'They will also help to hold all your internal organs in place, ensuring you are less likely to run into problems such as urinary incontinence.'
Anyone with an existing back problem needs to check first with a doctor or physiotherapist before using the machine, warns Dr Usamah Jannoun, a consultant in back pain at the Harley Street Medical Centre.
'But I would recommend the use of a mechanical horse for patients who have been treated for back pain to prevent them running into similar problems in the future' says Dr Jannoun.
The iJoyRide costs £399, including postage and packing, until August 31. Thereafter, the machine will cost £450. Visit www.ijoyride.co.uk or call 0870 225 0118.
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