Physiotherapy with Animals

A new pilot program, the first of its kind in Israel, has been launched at Reuth Rehabilitation Hospital: Physiotherapy with dogs for patients suffering from chronic pain (pain that lasts for many months). The pilot was launched in collaboration with the Hibuk-Hay (animal hug) Center, headed by Dr. Shiri Rom-Taper. Participants are 20-60-year-old patients at Reuth’s Day Rehabilitation Center, suffering from chronic pain due to various injuries – including an IDF combat soldier whose hand was injured in training, as well as several victims of traffic accidents. Therapy, conducted with a Border Collie named Gidi, is designed to improve the participants’ motor and sensory functions.  This breed of dog was specifically chosen for its friendliness and suitability to the project.

Says Sarah Peleg-Shani, Head of Physiotherapy at Reuth: “The decision to start this therapeutic program is part of our investment in innovation, meant to improve the rehabilitation process, and help our patients regain optimal functioning abilities. The treatment is designed to challenge the patient, setting goals for physical activity with the animal in order to improve his/her functions through personally tailored physiotherapy exercises. The underlying assumption is that the dog will help in harnessing the patient’s motivation. Patients in pain often tend to focus on their pain, and this leads to deterioration of the injured area – arm, leg, shoulder. We expected the dog to encourage the patient and divert his/her attention from the pain to activities and connection with the animal – so that ultimately he/she will move the hurting limb with and despite the pain. We chose to focus on patients with chronic pain, because we believe that they can benefit the most from this type of treatment. In effect, the dog enables us to improve the rehabilitation process in physiotherapy.”

A novel Israeli online technology called BrainMarc monitors patients’ attention and level of brain involvement during physiotherapy exercises. The technology was developed by Reuth, in collaboration with the Israeli startup company BrainMarc. A bow-like device which the patient wears on his/her head, processes and analyzes brainwaves in real time, producing BEI (Brain Engagement Index) measurements that enable therapists to optimize and personalize the treatment.

One patient who took part in the pilot was Hagit Hason, 48, who, injured in the leg and knee in a motorcycle accident two years ago, still suffers from acute pain and walks with the aid of crutches. “The accident totally disrupted my life,” she says. “I have become introverted, insecure and sad. I don’t drive and I can’t do any physical exercise. I’ve even stopped working. Gidi the dog supports me, gives me confidence and helps me stand up. Despite the pain, Gidi hugs me and gives me the strength to go on. The dog knows when I’m about to stumble, and supports me.”

Since Hagit started treatment with Gidi, her functions have improved significantly, and the supporting splint has been removed from her leg. With her son’s wedding approaching, she had feared that she would not be able to walk him to his Hupa, but the staff helped her practice the walk with Gidi. “I visualized the exercises I do with Gidi, and I was able to do it, despite the difficulty. I was on top of the world!” she recalls.