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Balance and Mobility Problems with MS: Try Yoga

MS, balance and yoga

Balance and mobility challenges can be frightening, frustrating, and place people with multiple sclerosis (MS) in danger of falling or otherwise injuring themselves. Although doctors often recommend exercise and stretching to tackle these problems, yoga is one form they typically overlook.

The practice of yoga takes many forms, and so if you are envisioning standing on your head or getting into pretzel-like positions, put them out of your mind. Many yoga postures are gentle, strengthening, and empowering and have been shown to be effective in improving balance, mobility, fatigue, and even depression in MSers.

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Here are three examples of how yoga has proven itself to help people with MS. After reading about these study results, it may be time to consider taking yoga yourself. See what you think.

Thirty-one women (average age, 36.75 years) who had an Expanded Disability Status Scale score (EDSS) of 1.0 to 4.0 (mild to moderate MS) were randomly assigned to one of three groups: treadmill exercise, yoga, or control for 8 weeks. The women in the treadmill and yoga groups attended sessions three times a week while those in the control group followed their regular treatment plans.

  • Treadmill sessions included 30 minutes on the treadmill with 10 minutes of stretching both before and after the treadmill
  • Yoga included 60 to 70 minutes of Hatha yoga with an instructor familiar with MS. Hatha yoga focuses on building physical and mental strength. The participants practiced breathing, meditation, stretching, and about a dozen different postures.

The authors checked balance, walking endurance, fatigue severity, depression, and anxiety both before and after the 8 weeks. Women in the treadmill and yoga groups showed significant improvements in all five areas, but those in the yoga group had even better results in anxiety scores than women in the treadmill group.

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In another recent study, 24 individuals with MS completed a four-month program of Ananda yoga (a system of hatha yoga) focusing on strength, balance, mobility, and quality of life. All the participants received intensive yoga training followed by 17 weeks during they were to practice at home.

The MSers experienced significant improvements in balance, strength, and breathing (peak expiratory flow) as well as in mood and quality of life scores.

In another study of MSers who had EDSS scores of 6.0 or less, 57 adults were randomly assigned to weekly lyengar yoga classes with home practice, weekly exercise classes using a stationary bike along with home exercise, or a control group. The study lasted six months.

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This study looked at the impact of yoga and exercise on fatigue, vitality, and cognitive functions such as attention and mood. Participants in both of these groups showed significant improvement in fatigue and vitality when compared with the control group, but there were no clear changes in mood seen in this study.

So what do you think? If you are experiencing balance and mobility issues associated with MS, it may be time to consider yoga as part of your treatment plan.

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Ahmadi A et al. Comparison of the effect of 8 weeks aerobic and yoga training on ambulatory function, fatigue and mood status in MS patients. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal 2013 Jun; 15(6): 449-54
Oken BS et al. Randomized controlled trial of yoga and exercise in multiple sclerosis. Neurology 2004; 62(11):2058–64.
Salgado BC et al. Effects of a 4-month Ananda yoga program on physical and mental health outcomes for persons with multiple sclerosis. International Journal of Yoga Therapy 2013; 23(2): 27-38

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