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The group providing life-changing access to horse riding

NR Times speaks to disabled riding coach Liz Morrison about her new project which is giving those with life-changing neuro conditions the chance to get back on a horse.

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The Happiness Horsebox is set to launch in July this year

Horses can have a profound impact for people looking to recover from injury or illness.

Equine rehabilitation as it is known can help improve a patients mobility, alleviate signs of illness, improve their strength and most importantly bring fun and happiness to a patient’s life.

However getting an adult with motion issues onto a horse can be a struggle.

Liz Morrison is launching the Happiness Horsebox to make sure those with life-changing disabilities don’t miss out on these benefits.

The idea behind the community interest company (CIC) is to make horse riding much more accessible, with the group’s main attraction being the launch of its horsebox which provides all the necessary facilities to do this.

It features a hydraulic lifting platform to make it wheelchair accessible and allows a person to easily mount the animal, while also providing the other necessary bathroom facilities.

Liz has been helping those with disabilities feel the rewards of horse riding for a number of years now and has seen first hand the impact it can have.

She recalls one incident of a stroke patient feeling these benefits.

“I have seen the unconscious power of a horse,” Liz told NR Times. “We worked with someone who had a stroke and they hadn’t been able to unclench their hand.

“For the first time they reached out and they touched the horse with an outstretched hand.

“For people who know and love horses, this is a way of connecting with them as it’s a very powerful way of getting people back to their original experiences.”

Liz first took an interest in helping people with disabilities when she was 17 after volunteering at a geriatric ward for her Duke of Edinburgh award.

In her three years there she met a number of dementia patients who would often go weeks without any visitors, something she struggled to come to terms with.

“I couldn’t understand why no one was coming to see them,” Liz said. “It all started with visiting those dementia wards and I realised that these people just deserve better.”

“Whatever we can do to keep that interest in life going when they’ve had such amazing lives. That’s exactly the same for someone with a head or spinal injury, to see the real person is something I’m really passionate about.”

She shares a similar passion for horses and the combination of the two has sparked the creation of the Happiness Horsebox – a first-of-its-kind wheelchair friendly wagon that allows those with disabilities to easily mount a horse.

While training as a coach for the Riding for the Diabled Association (RDA), Liz noticed a lack of adults with physical impairments engaging with horse riding.

“Because they couldn’t get disabled adults onto horses, they didn’t really handle cases for them anymore.

“I was quite shocked to realise that most of the RDAs work is with children with learning disabilities on ponies.

“I saw a platform lift being used at one centre and I thought we could put that on the back of a horsebox.”

The power of these animals when it comes to connecting with a human was something Liz really emphasised when speaking to NR Times.

Not only are the animals so overwhelming, but riding one in the countryside can often be liberating for a lot of people.

This is a feeling which does not come around too often for those bound to a wheelchair, with Liz saying the impact can often be a lasting one.

“When you’re up on a horse and you’ve got the right sort of people with you, then the freedom it gives is incredible and I think that stays with people for a long time.

“If we can give someone a lift just for a minute, so their friends and carers can see a glimpse of their old self coming to life with a horse again, that is really important.

“It’s that little bit of hope and belief in the person that comes when you see them, and a horse just takes people there because of that unconscious connection.”

As well as this horse riding can bring a sense of normality for those with certain conditions.

This is particularly the case for those who were engaged with the sport prior to their disablement.

“It’s the one thing that helps them realise that they can recover,” Liz said. “Because for that one hour or two hours when they’re on a horse, they say ‘oh I can be normal again.’

Liz Morrioson – Happiness Horsebox founder

“I think that normality is massive. Forget the stress of not being able to coordinate your hands or the right words don’t come out your mouth, it doesn’t matter, the horse doesn’t care.”

This is not the first piece of work Liz has done when it comes to disability horse riding. She also helped found the Positive Riding for the Disabled Association which also seeks to fill the void of adults being unable to access horses.

Spinal and brain injury patients will be a key part of the Happiness Horsebox’s work, with the physical benefits also able to help accelerate recovery in some cases.

“If someone has got the ability to get that core strength back, riding is a tremendous therapy because the legs can just hang and you can get the core muscles working again.”

All of these positives will be felt by those who use the facilities, which is gaining approval from a number of high profile bodies in the sport.

The CIC has already won the Sport England Innovation Award for 2020-21 as well as receiving funding from the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust and Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony Charity.

This publicity has made people take note with a number of groups already asking when they can use it, despite the fact it is not expected to launch until July.

Once it is fully operational the horsebox will be featured in events and competitions across the country, with talks already underway to produce another three vehicles.

A big reason why Happiness Horsebox has gained such endorsement is because it has been produced with the help of professional therapists.

This is crucial because it allows the group to properly help its patients in their rehab, something Liz was keen to point out.

“It was so important to me that we work with physiotherapists and professionals about what someone could and couldn’t do.”

“We could help set get someone on a horse and cheer them up massively, but that therapeutic intervention needs a professional.

Although horses have already shown their power in rehab, one thing that goes along with this that has not been able to help those with life-change disabilities is the countryside.

The reason for this is simply because it is not attainable enough.

The rough terrain is certainly not wheelchair friendly, but things like the lack of toilet facilities also play a huge part.

Because of its portability, the Happiness Horsebox can help with this.

It is equipped with the appropriate bathroom furnishings to help with a range of conditions and the ability to get someone off a chair and onto a horse opens up a new world of possibilities for them.

“Parents of kids that are disabled are just heartbroken about how much the countryside is inaccessible to a child in a wheelchair, let alone an adult.

“For me the countryside can give so much and we just need to make this available and encourage people that little bit, knowing that it’s going to be safe.”

Opening these new avenues for people with physical impairments is something Liz takes great pride in and something she said she wants to be remembered for.

“I see this as my legacy. I haven’t got kids and I have seen my friends have terrible changes in their lives.

“I just want to make sure that horses and nature can be part of peoples recovery or at least part of their solace.”

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Osteoarthritis: breaking the cycle

Medical technology company Ottobock shares its expertise on approaches to the condition.

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Sponsored feature

Why is Cartilage Important?

Bones that come in contact with other bones are covered by cartilage at their contact points. Cartilage does not have blood vessels – it is supplied with nutrients through movement of the joint. That’s why regular exercise is so important!

Cartilage ensures that the joint surfaces move against each other in the most efficient way and with little friction. It absorbs shock, cushioning the joint, and distributes the forces acting on the joint.

If cartilage is damaged and its gliding properties are affected, it can no longer serve its purpose and the joints range of movement can become limited.

Typical Progression of Osteoarthritis

When osteoarthritis of the knee develops due to joint malalignment, an accident, advancing age, obesity or excessive strain, the damaged cartilage is no longer able to properly fulfil its function.

This results in pain and re­duced mobility. The affected patient instinctively assumes a relieving posture to reduce strain on the knee.

However, this often leads to new prob­lems in other places, such as the hip, and reduces the supply of nutrients to the cartilage, for which movement is required – sparking a vicious circle.

The cartilage develops cracks and begins to break down. At the same time, the bone thickens at the site of the damage.

When the cartilage layer is completely worn away, the affected bones come into direct contact and rub against each other causing joint pain and inflammation.

The thickest joint cartilage is located behind the kneecap (patella). This is an area of high stress. Osteoarthritis occurring in this area is known as patellafemoral osteoarthritis

Signs and Symptoms

There are several common symptoms that signal knee osteoarthritis. They can occur individually or together. However, with the initial onset, you may not notice any of these symptoms

When symptoms appear they usually occur in the following order:

  • Cracking in the joint
  • Pain during load bearing activities, such as carrying a heavy object
  • Pain during every day activities, such as climbing the stairs
  • Reduced mobility
  • Swelling and inflammation

Non-Invasive Treatments

Joint specific exercises: with regular exercise mobility can be maintained and muscle strengthened, ensuring the cartilage is supplied with the nutrients it needs.

Temperature: with acute inflammation, cold relieves pain and reduces swelling. Heat relaxes the muscles and tendons and increases the flow of nutrients. Heat may only be applied when the joint is not inflamed.

Creams: various over the counter products are available at your local pharmacy including gels and creams that can help relieve pain.

Orthopaedic devices (braces and supports): these are applied externally to the knee, reducing pain and improving mobility.

Lifestyle: living a healthy lifestyle can help to combat osteoarthritis. A healthy diet and an active lifestyle reduces the chance of obesity, putting less stress and strain through the knee joints.

Orthotic Options

An orthotic fitting is a key component in the treatment of osteoarthritis. It can provide the following:

  • Pain relief
  • Support daily activities
  • Support during activities that affect the joint, whether at work or during sports

Did you know?

An osteoarthritis patient takes an average of around 1,200 tablets a year to manage pain. But this can lead to damage to the stomach, bowel and liver.

An orthosis from the Agilium line is therefore a good alternative. It’s worth-while for anyone with knee osteoarthritis to test the effectiveness of the orthoses themselves.

The Agilium Line

The braces in our Agilium line are designed specifically to target the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee.

Each works in a different way to address the various characteristics of osteoarthritis of the knee. At the same time, we placed great emphasis on their comfort and suitability for daily use.

The Agilium Freestep, the Agilium Reactive and the Agilium Softfit are used to treat unicompartmental osteoarthritis of the knee.

The Agilium Patella is used for patients with patellofemoral arthritis.

The Agilium Freestep is used to treat OA, although it is not applied directly to the knee. Instead is worn on the foot, right inside the shoe! For targeted relieve, it alters the load-line of the knee – the point where the body weight impacts the cartilage.

The Agilium Softfit is a pull on knee brace with a textile base and single upright that stabilises and relieves the knee using a three point force system to offload the affected compartment (side) of the knee.

The Agilium Reactive also uses a three point force system to offload the affected compartment (side) of the knee. However, the innovative closure system in the upper calf provides comfort while sitting without compromising the stable position when standing.

The Agilium Patella combines a textile structure and stabilising component with a dynamic re-alignment mechanism enabling it to maintain the central alignment of the knee cap, reducing pressure behind the knee cap.

Find the appropriate brace with Agilium Select.

Visit our website or go to ottobock.com/agilium-select

If you would like to know more about any of these products please get in touch via orthoticsuk@ottobock.com or visit our website for more information: www.ottobock.co.uk

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Masturbation linked to stroke in medical case study

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Doctors in Japan have reported how masturbation sparked a bleed on the brain of a 51-year-old man; as published in the Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases.

Doctors at the Nagoya City University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Japan explained that the man attended hospital after orgasming, with the sudden onset of a searing headache that lasted for around a minute. This was followed by an intense bout of vomiting.

A CT scan showed an acute subarachnoid hemorrhage in the left hemisphere.

The researchers note that masturbation causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and noradrenaline plasma levels – which are likely to contribute to the risk of splitting a blood vessel in the brain and result in a hemorrhagic stroke.

The man was treated with stents and coiling, two techniques used to bolster the blood vessel and maintain blood flow to the brain, and he went on to make a full recovery.

The study authors say that they found just two other cases of masturbation-linked strokes in other scientific literature.

The Japanese man survived and was discharged after nearly two weeks in hospital in an “excellent” condition.

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Engineers develop ultrasound patch to monitor blood flow

Breakthrough could help to better predict stroke and other cardiovascular conditions earlier.

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Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed an ultrasound patch that can be worn on the skin. It monitors the blood flow through major arteries and veins deep within the body.

It is hoped that it could help clinicians diagnose cardiovascular conditions faster. It could also help to diagnose blockages in the arteries which could lead to strokes or heart attacks.

The ultrasound patch continuously monitors blood flow as well as blood pressure and heart function in real-time. Assessing how much blood flows through a patient’s blood vessels could help diagnose blood clots, heart valve problems and poor circulation in the limbs.

For many patients, blood flow is not measured during a regular visit to their doctors. It is usually assessed after a patient shows signs of cardiovascular problems.

The patch can be worn on the neck or chest and can measure cardiovascular signals up to 14 centimetres inside the body non invasively with high accuracy.

How the patch works

The patch is made of a thin, flexible polymer that sticks to the skin.

There is an array of millimetre-sized ultrasound transducers on the patch known as an ultrasound phased array.

These are individually controlled by a computer. Another feature is that the ultrasound beam can be tilted at different angles to areas in the body that are not directly below the patch.

It can operate in two modes. In one, all of the transducers can be synched together to transmit ultrasound waves which produce a high-intensity beam that focuses on one spot.

This can be up to 14cm deep in the body.

A wearable ultrasound patch on the skin

The other mode allows the transducers to be programmed to transmit out of sync producing beams at different angles.

In being able to manipulate the beams, it gives the device multiple capacities for monitoring central organs as well as blood flow with high resolution.

When the electricity flows through the transducers, they vibrate while emitting ultrasound waves that travel through the skin into the body.

When they penetrate a blood vessel, they encounter the movement of red blood cells flowing inside. The cell movement changes how the waves are transmitted back to the patch.

This change is recorded by the patch and creates a visual recording of the blood flow. It can also be used to create moving images of the heart’s walls.

The benefits:

Sheng Xu, professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering said:

“This type of wearable device can give you a more comprehensive, more accurate picture of what’s going on in deep tissues and critical organs like the heart and the brain, all from the surface of the skin.”

Xu added: “This is a first in the field of wearables because existing wearable sensors typically only monitor areas right below them.

“If you want to sense signals at a different position, you have to move the sensor to that location. With this patch, we can probe areas that are wider than the device’s footprint. This can open up a lot of opportunities.”

The researchers say that the easy to use patch could allow patients to wear the patch and monitor the results themselves. It doesn’t depend on a technician to read the results

The next stage

The patch is not yet ready for clinical use. The researchers are currently working on a way to make the electronics wireless as it currently needs a power source and benchtop machine.

Image credit: Nature Biomedical Engineering

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