Stroke rehabilitation and yoga: A summary for healthcare professionals

In the Summer 2022 issue of Yoga Therapy Today, a team of yoga professionals summarized the latest Cochrane Review on stroke rehabilitation and yoga, assessing yoga’s clinical relevance and how it might be applied in rehabilitation protocols. The review was promising for yoga’s efficacy—it also calls attention to the nuance with which yoga can be researched and applied for stroke patients. 

“Strokes are the second most common cause of adult disability and the most common diagnosis for which rehabilitative therapy is prescribed,” report authors Kate Abbott, JD, MS; Teresa Christopher, MS, RYT-500; Cristina Holtz, MS, E-RYT 500; and Yuki Riley, MS, E-RYT 500. “Research suggests that stroke survivors can benefit both cognitively and physically from participating in yoga, as yogic practices promote balance, strength, breathing, and complex movements, yet there is limited literature specific to yoga and stroke.”

They go on to review two randomized controlled trials (RCT) that evaluated quality of life (QOL) and balance, as well as secondary measurements of movement and psychological outcomes. 

While the certainty of evidence provided in the review—which included only 72 participants—was low, the authors note that yoga shows to be a promising rehabilitative intervention for stroke patients. There was no significant effect on QOL using the Stroke Impact Scale or Stroke-Specific QOL Scale; there was, however, a significant effect of yoga on memory. 

“We believe that yoga therapy has the potential to be integrated as a patient-centered stroke rehabilitation intervention and as a self management intervention for long-term post-stroke recovery, and should not be discounted as an effective rehabilitation modality for stroke survivors,” the authors note. “Facilitating studies using broad, one-size-fits-all, yoga-based rehabilitation protocols for stroke survivors may limit the effectiveness of the outcomes. Each stroke survivor’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs/goals are specific to the individual, while having appropriate and achievable goals impacts measurements of success. Yoga therapy’s framework and unique scope of practice, and its method of conducting individualized assessments and plans of care tailored to each client, offer an integrative approach that meets clients where they are and facilitates an environment conducive to nurturing and maintaining optimal health.”

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