Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system characterized by the disruption of information within your brain and between your brain and your body. MS is caused by your immune system attacking myelin, which is a protective sheath that covers your nerves. The destruction of myelin causes the disruption in the communication between the brain and the body. For this reason the symptoms of MS vary but are often disabling. MS can lead to muscle weakness, numbness, loss of coordination, unsteady gait, pain, tremors and a host of other problems. While there is no cure for MS there are treatments aimed at managing the symptoms of the disease. Some studies have shown that Tai Chi may improve the symptoms of MS.
One study in particular showed that Tai Chi improved depression and balance in a group of MS patients. Other patients in the study also showed improvements in spasms, numbness, bladder control and walking. The study focused on “the fundamental principles of balance, movement, sensory and breathing” that underlie Tai Chi. The study paid particular attention to “the development of a relaxed and compassionate attitude to the body.” Participants in the study were involved in six guided sessions, and were given audio and video to practice Tai Chi at home for at least 30 minutes a day.
After just two months, all but one of the participants doubled the amount of time they were able to stand on one leg. This is in part because Tai Chi involves controlled movements that focus on shifting weight from one leg to another. Additionally, Tai Chi improved the patients’ emotional well-being. This is because learning Tai Chi is thought to give people who suffer from depression a sense of “doing something” and “thus giving a sense of mastery.” It is common for patients who suffer from physical illnesses to feel a loss of independence and the loss of the ability to perform physical activities. Therefore, an accommodating and adaptive form like Tai Chi may give them something to look forward to and to engage in regularly.
The benefits of Tai Chi tend to increase as you practice and learn more and more. The improvements in strength and balance are cumulative. If the improvements in this study happened after only 2 months, perhaps MS patients may experience even better quality of life after more time practicing Tai Chi.