Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms Relieved by Yoga

September 12, 2014
Rachel Lutz

Moderate disability due to multiple sclerosis could be treated with yoga, according to research from Rutgers investigators.

Yoga can relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to research from the Rutgers School of Health Related Professions. The full results of the study will be presented at the Symposium on Yoga Research at the Kripalu Institute in Stockbridge, MA, on Sept. 26.

In a pilot trial, researchers studied 14 women aged 34 to 64 years with moderate disability due to MS at the Still Point Yoga Center in Laurel Springs, NJ. The participants had been living with MS from anywhere between 2 and 26 years since diagnosis. Originally, 72 individuals volunteered to participate, but, for various reasons, some were ineligible for other medical criteria or withdrew.

“I was living independently, doing my job, taking care of my child and then I had to look to my parents to take care of me,” Paula Meltzer, one participant from the study, said in a press release. After the yoga program, she said, “I felt like I became steadier and stronger in my core. To be able to stand on one leg and feel balanced is amazing.”

Previously, there had not been much in the way of confirmed data regarding yoga as a viable MS treatment option.

However, after an 8-week trial, the participants saw improvements in various areas, including the ability to walk short distances and longer periods of time, balance while reaching backwards, fine motor coordination, and the ability to go from sitting to standing. Their quality of life was also improved in areas such as perceived mental health, concentration, bladder control, walking, and vision. Pain and fatigue were decreased among the patients.

Part of the therapy regimen included specially-designed yoga, which researchers found improved their physical and mental well-being and quality of life. The poses included standing, lying on yoga mats, and using metal folding chairs close to walls for additional support. The study was advised by a panel of experts who ensured the yoga program was fully integrated in terms of philosophy, breathing practices, postures, relaxation, and meditation.

“Yoga is not just exercise, it is a whole system of living,” said director of research for the Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Rutgers, Susan Gould-Fogerite, PhD. “This study, I hope, is one of many that will give us the clinical information we need. Yoga is not currently being widely prescribed for people with MS, although it might turn out to be a very helpful treatment.”

The researchers’ next step is to conduct a larger, randomized controlled trial to see if yoga could be considered a practical treatment option for patients with moderate disability from MS.