Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) are frequent users of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to manage their condition, with prevalence ranging between 54% and 57% of patients1 Predictors of CAM use in MS include being female, being more highly educated and experiencing poorer health status.2 Reasons that patients turn to CAM include desire for a more holistic approach, feeling a greater sense of empowerment, improving in general health, and relief from physical and psychological symptoms.2 Most MS patients use CAM as an adjunct rather than an alternative to conventional therapies.2
Yoga and acupuncture are two modalities commonly used by patients with MS.3,4 This article examines the potential benefits and risks of each.
Yoga and MS
Once believed to increase fatigue and risk of overheating, exercise is now acknowledged as an inexpensive and beneficial intervention in MS.5 A multicomponent exercise regimen consisting of balancing, strengthening, stretching, and aerobic components is both beneficial and enjoyable.3
Yoga, an ancient Indian practice, contains all of thee elements, in addition to a philosophy of mind-body awareness.3 The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCAM) describes yoga as “ a mind and body practice with historical origins in ancient Indian philosophy.”6 Like other meditative movement practices used for health purposes, “various styles of yoga typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation.”6
A review of studies of yoga and meditation in neurological disorders, including MS,7 found that these modalities yielded statistically encouraging physiological and psychological improvements in MS symptoms. However, the authors noted that “most of the studies reviewed had inadequacies in their study design, especially with regards to the sample sizes and the employment of controls, randomization, and double blinding.”