Study finds adapted yoga feasible, beneficial for adults with traumatic brain injury

Previous study showed those with chronic stroke also benefit from adapted yoga

  • Feb. 17, 2016


INDIANAPOLIS -- A research team, led by an IU School of Health and Rehabilitation faculty member at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, has determined that adapted yoga is both feasible and beneficial for adults with stroke or traumatic brain injury.

Subjects in a recently published study of adults with traumatic brain injury demonstrated improved balance, flexibility, strength, endurance and walking speed after participation in adapted yoga.

The study underscores the belief that adapted yoga may offer additional benefits beyond those offered by traditional exercise for patients who have suffered a brain injury. This additional benefit is thought to be due to the integration of mind, body and spirit, which is an inherent part of yoga practice.

"This is potentially of great importance because of the mind/body disconnect that is common after a traumatic brain injury," the researchers concluded.

Annually, more than 1.7 million Americans sustain a brain injury, leaving millions of people living with post-traumatic brain injury residual disabilities.

With the number of rehabilitation sessions limited for most patients after a brain injury, adapted yoga as a post-rehabilitation activity is particularly well-suited for patients who are on the road to recovery but not functioning well enough to exercise at a gym, said Kristine Miller, assistant professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences' Department of Physical Therapy.

"Therapeutic yoga is one option we've latched onto to see if it can help fill that gap," Miller said. "One of the things about yoga that is different from traditional rehabilitation exercises is that it is more whole-body focused. It helps people learn to take their nervous systems to a more calm and relaxed state, which helps with healing."

The traumatic brain injury study examined the impact of an eight-week yoga program delivered in a one-to-one setting for three people. Among the results for the group, balance increased by 36 percent, balance confidence by 39 percent, lower-extremity strength by 100 percent and endurance by 105 percent.

After the program ended, one of the participants said adapted yoga "rocked my world. It's changed my life. I mean all the different aspects. I mean physically, emotionally, mentally, it's given me my life back."

Adapted yoga is developed with physical impairments in mind. Yoga movements, for example, may be done from a sitting position, in either a wheelchair or a sturdy seat. As the program advances, no one is asked to perform movements they are uncomfortable with.

The results of the traumatic brain injury study, plus the results of the team's previous work with veterans and non-veterans with stroke, led the team to begin pilot testing the adapted-yoga protocol in a community-based setting.

The team is currently conducting the second phase of a feasibility study that began in 2014 to determine whether a sustainable, community-based adapted-yoga program can be implemented. The team has partnered with the YMCA of Madison County and is currently testing the adapted-yoga protocol in adults with acquired brain injury (stroke and traumatic brain injury) at the YMCA.  

"We hope to determine whether it is possible to translate the results of the previous studies conducted in a controlled research environment into a sustainable program in the community," Miller said. "If we accomplish that, our long-term goal is to develop additional adapted programs for people with other chronic disabilities."

Based on a community-needs assessment, the research team believes that people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and chronic pain are among those who could benefit from an adapted program structured to help them get started with exercise that would provide similar benefits to those experienced by people with strokes and traumatic brain injuries, including improving balance, flexibility, strength, endurance and walking speed, Miller said.

Adapted-yoga session

Adapted-yoga session

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Richard Schneider