Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neuromuscular condition caused by the demyelination of the axons and the myelin sheath of the central nervous system. MS affects both the brain and the spinal cord which specifically slows down or blocks the messages from the brain to the body. Treatment of MS consists of immunomodulary therapy for the underlying disorder and symptom management. Aside from the typical nonpharmacologic treatment that are introduced to MS patients such as physical and occupational therapy, complementary and alternative medicine as management option is also getting famous.
Among the widely used complementary and alternative management (CAM) approaches that are used in managing MS patients are meditation and yoga. Health survey shows that 12% to 31% of these persons have been practicing yoga exercises and 60% to 80% of them claimed that it had been helpful. Although there has been a number of CAM approaches related to the management of multiple sclerosis, interest has been high for meditation and yoga. The benefits of yoga are believed to be related to the lower risk of physical and emotional stress thus it is considered as a practical therapeutic approach. Yoga exercise also allows MS patients to engage in their treatment in very active and engaged manner. Yoga and other mind-body approaches also offer relatively low-cost options as compared to other established treatment for multiple sclerosis. It is important to note though that currently there has still no direct evidence and particular process as to how yoga benefits MS patients.
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Research study in yoga and MS
A new pilot study suggests that a yoga program designed specifically for patients with multiple sclerosis shows benefit in improvement on walking ability, balance, fatigue, and health status. This might also even help control the inflammation and pain suffered by MS patients. According to Evan T. Cohen, PhD, the lead study author and a physical therapist and associate professor at Rutgers School of Health Related Professions, the results add weight to the importance of physical activity and that neurologists should be recommending exercise and physical activity to their MS patients. Dr. Cohen however pointed out that the study he conducted was exploratory and this study was not to say definitively that yoga is more effective than the other modes of physical activity.
The study involved 15 women who had been living with MS for about 14 years who participated in the yoga program developed by a panel of experts. The program was particularly made for MS patients and includes elements for breathing, medication, yoga philosophy, relaxation and yoga posture. The yoga program was 2 90-minute sessions per week for 8 weeks. The researchers also took blood samples but the results of the analysis of the impact of yoga on various parameters are not present in the study as they are still analyzing it.
What the research indicates
According to the researchers, yoga has caused improvements on balance and posture among multiple sclerosis patients. It was further noted that an element of camaraderie and purpose may be involved thus improving the MS affected person's quality of life. The researchers believed that the meditation element of yoga may have contributed to the improvement of quality of life of the subjects and that mindfulness and meditation have a physiologic effect.
There might be plenty of anecdotal evidence of yoga's benefits; there has been a little objective evidence for such claim. Studies conducted involving yoga and other mind-body therapies in the treatment of multiple sclerosis were exploratory. Despite of the potential benefits that are supported by such studies, there are still no conclusive evidences for the claimed physical benefits. It is also necessary to emphasize that despite the hypothesized and claimed benefits of yoga exercise, there is still no evidence that it indeed affects the underlying multiple sclerosis disease process thus established treatment such as medications should be continued.
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While there is no definite research study claiming the effectiveness of yoga to MS, always consult your doctor now regarding your treatment and don’t rely on yoga and meditation as the sole treatment option for your condition.