Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the fatty myelin coating that surrounds and insulates nerve cells, a process known as demyelination. Some of the common symptoms experienced by people with MS include fatigue, muscle spasms, walking difficulties, or numbness and tingling of the face, body, arms and legs.
While a number of medicines are approved to treat MS, interest is growing in complementary and alternative medicines that address MS symptoms while improving the quality of life for patients.
One popular alternative, known as complementary mind-body techniques, is therapeutic yoga.
Yoga is an ancient practice from India that incorporates breathing techniques, physical postures, and relaxation. There are many different types of yoga, and they differ in intensity and style. While people with MS can choose among styles, they should do so in consultation with a healthcare specialist because certain types of yoga may not be suitable for people with MS.
For example, hot yoga is not recommended for MS patients because heat can worsen disease symptoms, a phenomenon known as heat intolerance.
Therapeutic yoga is defined as “the application of yoga postures and practices to treat health conditions. It involves instruction in yogic practices and teachings to prevent, reduce or alleviate structural, physiological, emotional and spiritual pain, suffering or limitation.”
Therapeutic yoga studies
A number of studies suggest that yoga techniques may ease physical pain and benefit people with MS.
A study involving 60 women with MS at Shiraz Medical University in Iran divided the women into two groups: the women in the first group practiced two 90-minute sessions of pain-management yoga techniques per week while those in the second group did not practice yoga and served as a control group. At the end of the study, statistically significant improvements in physical pain and quality of life were seen in the women who practiced yoga.
A qualitative case study published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy found a link between yoga and improved physical and emotional functioning, including reduction of stress, increased social interactions, body awareness, and motivation in MS patients practicing yoga, as well as positive shifts in attitude and life focus.
A small study conducted in Germany evaluated 21 days of yoga intervention in 11 people with MS and neurogenic bladder dysfunction. Results showed a significant reduction in post-void residual urine (PVR), or the volume of urine left in the bladder after urination, and in the number of toilet visits during a day. Improved scores in two measures of bladder function — the Incontinence Impact Questionnaire-7 and Urogenital Distress Inventory-6 — were also recorded. These improvements, the researchers said, suggest that yoga is a safe and effective treatment for bladder symptoms caused by neurogenic bladder dysfunction, as an adjunct to standard care.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Ankara in Turkey assessed the use of yoga therapy for symptom management and quality of life improvement in eight participants with MS. The study specifically evaluated the effects of a 12-week yoga intervention on fatigue, balance, and gait. Compared with baseline data, statistically significant improvements were found in terms of both fatigue and balance, as well as step length and walking speed, the researchers reported.
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