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UMass: Researchers Compare the Benefits of Tai Chi and Meditation on MS Symptoms

UMass Amherst researchers have received funding to compare the effects of tai chi and mindfulness meditation on both the physical balance and psychosocial well-being of people with multiple sclerosis (MS). In a pilot study with 30 participants who have mild to moderate MS symptoms, researchers at the Motor Control Lab of Dr. Richard van Emmerik, professor of kinesiology, will use a one-year, $54,972 pilot grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to measure the immediate and ongoing benefits of the two mind-body practices.

Ms. Julianna Averill, a doctoral student in motor control working in Dr. Van Emmerik’s lab, hopes the results will validate the approach of community-based classes and lead to a larger scale study across the commonwealth.

Characterized by unpredictable periods of relapse and remission, MS is the most common disabling neurological disorder among young adults. People with MS may have a range of symptoms, including vision problems, muscle weakness, coordination and balance problems, tingling and burning sensations or numbness, extreme fatigue, fuzzy thinking and depression.

“While MS symptoms vary depending on where the damage in the brain and spinal cord is located, balance issues are a common occurrence in MS,” Ms. Averill says. “Mind-body interventions are beneficial as they train dynamic balance, such as transitioning between postures, turning, reaching, etc., in a manner similar to movements in daily life.”

Finding ways to improve postural control and balance confidence is crucial to reducing the risk and fear of falls, a common and serious hazard for people with MS, which also affects their quality of life, Ms. Averill says.

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