Yoga helps stroke patients to regain their balance
The ancient practice improved motor function and balance in stroke survivors



07:30 GMT, 27 July 2012

Senior woman doing yoga

Survivors who had yoga classes felt less afraid of falling (posed)

Yoga may help stroke survivors improve their balance, according to a new study.

Researchers found group yoga can improve balance in stroke survivors who no longer receive rehabilitative care.

In a pilot study, scientists tested the potential benefits of yoga among chronic stroke survivors – those whose stroke occurred more than six months earlier.

Lead researcher Doctor Arlene Schmid, a rehabilitation research scientist at Indiana University in the United States, said: 'For people with chronic stroke, something like yoga in a group environment is cost effective and appears to improve motor function and balance.'

The study's 47 participants, about three-quarters of them male veterans, were divided into three groups: twice-weekly group yoga for eight weeks; a 'yoga-plus' group, which met twice weekly and had a relaxation recording to use at least three times a week; and a usual medical care group that did no rehabilitation.

The yoga classes, taught by a registered yoga therapist, included modified yoga postures, relaxation, and meditation. Classes grew more challenging each week.

Compared with patients in the usual-care group, those who completed yoga or yoga-plus significantly improved their balance. The researchers said balance problems frequently last long after a person suffers a stroke, and are related to greater disability and a higher risk of falls.

Survivors in the yoga groups also had improved scores for independence and quality of life and were less afraid of falling.

Dr Schmid said: 'For chronic stroke patients, even if they remain disabled, natural recovery and acute rehabilitation therapy typically ends after six months, or maybe a year.'

She said improvements after the six-month window can take longer to occur, but added: 'We know for a fact that the brain still can change.

'The problem is the healthcare system is not necessarily willing to pay for that change. The study demonstrated that with some assistance, even chronic stroke patients with significant paralysis on one side can manage to do modified yoga poses.'

The oldest patient in the study was in his 90s. All participants had to be able to stand on their own at the study's outset. The researchers said yoga may be more therapeutic than traditional exercise because the combination of postures, breathing and meditation may produce different effects than simple exercise.

However, Dr Schmid said: 'Stroke patients looking for such help might have a hard time finding qualified yoga therapists to work with.

'Some occupational and physical therapists are integrating yoga into their practice, even though there's scant evidence at this point to support its effectiveness.'

Now the scientists hope to conduct a larger study. They also noticed improvements in the mindset of patients about their disability. The participants talked about walking through a grocery store instead of using an assistive scooter, being able to take a shower and feeling inspired to visit friends.

Dr Schmid said: 'It has to do with the confidence of being more mobile.
These were very meaningful changes in life for people.'

The research was published in the journal Stroke.