Cerebral vascular accidents (CVA) often cause a loss of feeling and motor skills in the lower limbs, which upsets the balance of those affected and increases their risk of falling. According to a recent study, the regular practice of yoga could counteract these harmful effects and significantly improve the quality of life of these patients.
Strokes are caused by a blockage or rupture of a vessel that carries blood to the brain. Deprived of oxygen and nutrients essential to their function, neurons are then seriously damaged and lose the ability to transmit nerve impulses.
If the region of the brain that is affected is essential for a basic function, for example the control of breathing, the stroke can be fatal; on the other hand, when the blockage affects other less essential brain regions, those affected can survive, but most of the time they are affected by motor deficits that restrict their movements and lead to a loss of balance.
These attacks mean that three-quarters of people affected by a stroke are victims of falls in the months following the event, which not only increases the risk of fractures, but also of mortality.
People then become fearful of moving and this fear of falling can lead to withdrawal, loss of self-esteem and sometimes even depression. Loss of balance caused by strokes therefore have very serious consequences for patients, both physically and psychologically.
We can recover thanks to neuro-plasticity
However, it is possible to recover from a stroke and regain, at least in part, the use of limbs whose function has been affected by the disease. The neurons that make up our nervous system are not static: on the contrary, these cells are very malleable and can reorganize to adapt to certain specific requirements.
In everyday life, this “neuroplasticity” allows our neurons to store new information that is essential for learning new skills (learning a second language, for example).
In the same way, following a stroke which has damaged a nervous circuit, it is possible to recruit a population of neurons and “educate” them so that they come to relieve the dead cells and form a new circuit. which will allow to recover the motor functions. However, this rehabilitation requires intensive physical training before the new neurons acquire these capacities.
Results in two months
Practiced in India for millennia, yoga is a philosophical discipline that uses meditation and complex body movements to promote physical and mental harmony.
To assess whether the regular practice of yoga could improve the sense of balance of stroke victims, a team of researchers initiated a pilot study with around fifty patients experiencing motor problems several months after the accident.
While a control group was followed in the usual way, another group of patients attended twice a week for two months yoga sessions supervised by a specialized teacher.
Each session included a series of complete exercises (floor, sitting, standing) combined with relaxation and meditation techniques. The researchers observed that the patients who took advantage of these classes demonstrated a significant improvement in their sense of balance, a benefit that translated into a reduction in their fear of falling.
These results therefore suggest that the coordination of complex movements, combined with the breathing and meditation techniques used during yoga sessions, can improve the quality of life of stroke survivors. Another concrete example of the extraordinary impact of the mind-body connection on health!
Schmid AA et al. Poststroke balance improves with yoga: a pilot study. stroke; 43:2402-7.
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