Yoga has been of particular interest to physical therapists searching for an effective yet gentle exercise to improve balance in stroke survivors, as well as coordination of complex movements, strength, and breathing. Various case studies regarding recovery have indicated that survivors can handle both the physical and cognitive demands of yoga, and that it can be used as an effective rehabilitation exercise. Results from these studies include improvements in balance, strength, range of motion, and walking among the key factors which improve quality of life and reduce disability for survivors.
As the most common diagnosis among patients treated by rehabilitation therapists, strokes are generally followed by persistent motor and sensory deficits, with balance impairment often continuing more than six months after diagnosis. Although Clinical Practice Guidelines suggest individuals recovering from stroke-related balance impairment should receive therapeutic training, there are no specific recommendations for exercise training that improves balance. In one 12 week yoga intervention program yoga was shown to improve balance, and the results of the study suggest that the combination of postures, breathing, and meditation specific to yogic exercise are most useful to improve balance when utilized together.
With the growing number of disabled individuals on the rise the need for more large-scale studies into effective rehabilitation exercises becomes apparent. More than 4.7 million people alive today have survived a stroke, making it the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. Many survivors report persistent health issues and reduced well-being as a result of limited mobility and reduced activity level after their diagnosis. The risk of falling for these individuals is considerable, as statistical analysis has shown 73% of elderly post-stroke patients fall within 6 months after being discharged from the hospital.
Yoga not only offers a gentle form of exercise that is easily adaptable to the needs of individual patients in post-stroke treatment, but could potentially improve the muscle force, balance, aerobic capacity, and timed mobility that will prevent them from falling. In one study designed to test if yoga could improve balance and other important variables in the rehabilitation of stroke survivors found yoga has potential benefits.
In the study, participants completed 16 yoga classes over an eight week period. In the end of the study participants showed significant improvements in balance, self-efficacy, and quality of life. Most notably, this study demonstrated measurable improvements which crossed the threshold of balance impairment and fall risk, indicating that after just 8 weeks of yoga practice the participants were no longer at a considerable risk of falling.
Between 1990 and 2013 a number of studies and articles were published involving yoga in various rehabilitation programs. In a systematic review and critical appraisal literature involving yoga to rehabilitate stroke survivors researchers found a number of randomized controlled clinical trials and single case studies which support the practice of yoga to improve balance. Positive results in the area of balance, as well as cognition, mood, and reduction of stress were listed among the results. The review concluded that yoga practices act on both the psychological and physical levels, and yoga seems to offer relief from a long list of medical ailments related to stroke.
By Mimi Mudd