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YTN #4

Yoga eases pain of carpal tunnel...

A simple yoga program -- no drugs, no expensive equipment and no surgery -- was better than conventional treatment at reducing pain and improving the hand strength of patients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, according to a new study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.

Common among computer users, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a potentially debilitating nerve disorder of the hand usually caused by repetitive motion, like typing. It results from pressure on the median nerve, which controls sensations in the thumb, index and middle fingers. The condition can be so painful that many sufferers cannot use their affected hand.

The randomized, single blind, controlled study included a yoga group and a group who only received wrist splints, the most common form of treatment. The yoga group took a 1.5 hour class twice a week. They performed simple postures designed to take each joint of the upper body through its full range of motion, stretching, strengthening and aligning the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. After eight weeks, the yoga group had significantly less pain and greater hand strength, whereas the control group experienced no significant reduction in pain or increase in hand strength.

The postures used in the program included:

  1. Staff pose (dandasana) -- sit on chair, trunk upright, press hands into chair, press shoulder baldes into back, move shoulders back and down.
  2. Prayer position -- press palms and fingers together, stretch and bend fingers.
  3. Arms overhead (urdhva hastasana) -- Lift arms over head, keep arms straight and shoulders down
  4. Arms overhead, fingers interlocked (parvatasana) -- Same as above, clasp fingers, turn palms upward.
  5. Chair twist -- sit sideways in chair with right side against back of chair. Place hands on back of chair, twist to the right using hands for additional support. Repeat on other side.
  6. Mountain (tadasana) -- see Posture Page.
  7. 90 degree forward bend to wall -- Stand with feet about hip width apart, raise arms over head, bend at hips bringing hands to rest on wall.
  8. Arms overhead with hands in prayer position -- Stand in tadasana, raise arms to Tee position, urn palms up, then rotate arms in small circles, first forward then back. Lift arms straight overhead, join hands in prayer position, stretch up and look up at hands.
  9. Dog pose with chair -- Stand, feet hip width apart, facing the seat of a chair. Bend, placing palms on seat, shoulder width apart. Straighten arms and lift waist, hips and knees a few inches above the chair. Turn arms out and crve trunk back between them. Bring coccyx, sacrum and lumbar spine forward, keeping buttocks tight. Stetch front of body from the pubis. Raise sternum and ribs. Hold shoulders back. Press shoulder blades and dorsal spine in.
  10. Hands in prayer behind back -- Stand in tadasana, bring palms together behind back, fingers pointing up down. Turn fingers up and raise as high as possible between the shoulder blades.
  11. Relaxation

    Each posture should be held for about 30 seconds.

From "Yoga-based intervention for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A randomized trial," by M. Garfinkel, A. Singhal, W. Katz, et al, in The Journal of the American Medical Association, November 11, 1998.


More hope for asthma sufferers...

A 16-week yoga program improved the quality of life for a group of asthmatics in a Colorado study. Patients went to yoga classes three times a week and were taught pranayama, postures and meditation. After 16 weeks the yoga group reported a significant degree of relaxation, positive attitude, and that they could better handle the yoga exercises. They also tended to use their inhalers less often. There was no significant difference in pulmonary functions between the yoga group and a control group that did not do yoga. Nonetheless, the researchers concluded that yoga seems beneficial as an adjunct to the medical management of asthma. Yoga may help asthma sufferers in several ways. First of all, asanas improve respiration and relax the chest muscles. A pranayama technique called the three-part breath promotes deeper breathing by using more of the lungs, while alternate nostril breathing induces calmness. Meditation also promotes calmness and relaxation. From "Clinical study of yoga techniques in university students with asthma: a controlled study," by P.K. Vedanthan, L.N. Kesavalu, K.C. Murthy, K. Duval, et al, in Allergy Asthma Proceedings, January 1998.


Ornish study shows lifestyle changes reverse heart disease...

Lifestyle matters. Especially to heart patients. Those are the findings of a new study by Dr. Dean Ornish in which an experimental group who made intensive changes in diet, exercise, stress management and other lifestyle factors, including yoga, showed greater reversal of coronary heart disease after five years than patients who followed a program advocated by the American Heart Association. In fact, the control group got worse over the five years, even though half of them were on lipid-lowering medications.

The study was a follow-up to the groundbreaking Ornish's Lifestyle Heart Trial. The original trial found that after one year, heart patients who made intensive lifestyle changes had a 37.2 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), less frequent angina (chest pain), and a reduction in stenosis (narrowing of the blood vessels). By contrast, patients who made moderate changes reduced LDL cholesterol by only 6 percent, had more frequent angina, and greater stenosis. Among the 48 patients from the original study, 35 agreed to take part in the follow-up and continued through the entire five years.

Patients in the experimental group were prescribed an intensive program that included a 10 percent fat vegetarian diet, moderate aerobic exercise, stress management training, smoking cessation and group psychosocial support. Control group patients were asked to follow the advice of their personal physicians regarding lifestyle changes, consistent with the American Heart Association's Step II diet guidelines. No experimental group patients took lipid-lowering drugs, while 60 percent of control patients received lipid-lowering medication. Angiograms were done at the end of five years for the 20 experimental group patients and 15 control group patients who completed the follow-up.

Among the findings of the study:

  • Experimental group patients had a 91 percent reduction in frequency of angina after one year, and a 72 percent reduction after five years. Control patients had a 186 percent increase in frequency of angina after one year, and a 36 percent decrease after five years. Three of the five control patients who reported an increase from baseline to year one underwent coronary angioplasty before year five.
  • The reduction in LDL cholesterol levels in the experiment group was comparable with results achieved by lipid-lowering drugs for ambulatory patients.
  • In the experimental group, the average percent diameter stenosis showed a 7.9 percent relative improvement after five years, while the control group showed a 27.7 percent relative worsening.

The researchers also found more than twice as many cardiac "events" in the control group (45 events, 2.25 events per patient) than in the experimental group (25 events, 0.89 events per patient). Events included heart attacks, coronary angioplasty, coronary bypass surgery, cardiac-related hospitalizations and cardiac-related deaths.

The bottom line for the study is that major lifestyle changes can help reverse heart disease. Following the program recommended by the American Heart Association does not.

Interestingly, in news reports following publication of the study the American Heart Association refused to endorse its results, saying that the Ornish program was too difficult for most people to follow, while their program was easier. Apparently, the fact that you also have a higher chance of dying if you follow the Heart Association's program doesn't factor into their thinking.

From "Intensive Lifestyle Changes for Reversal of Coronary Heart Disease," by Dean Ornish, MD; Larry W. Scherwitz, PhD; James H. Billings, PhD, MPH; K. Lance Gould, MD; et al, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, December 16, 1998.

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