A new study shows that the ancient Chinese practise of T'ai Chi is effective in treating the pain and other symptoms experienced by people suffering from fibromyalgia.
Disciplines similar to T'ai Chi have been practised in China for over 2,000 years, with the series of fixed postures and movements being formalised in the 18th century. T'ai Chi is often referred to as 'moving meditation' and is fast becoming one of the most popular exercise systems in the world, due at least in part to its positive effects on mental and physical health.
Described as an "integrated exercise system for both mind and body" in The Complete Book of T'ai Chi by Stewart McFarlane, in Chinese philosophical terms it is believed to balance the opposing forces of yin and yang and bring life energy (ch'i or qi) into balance so that mind and body are able to work together to improve balance, stability, flexibility and skill, as well as supporting health and healing.
Other Eastern disciplines based on the same philosophy such as meditative breathing and acupuncture have previously shown promise as treatments for fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is estimated to affect 200 million people worldwide and is characterised by widespread pain and symptoms including chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, cognitive problems and mood changes. Symptoms vary with levels of stress, climactic conditions and other triggering events.
In this, the first study to look at the effects of T'ai Chi on symptoms of fibromyalgia, 66 patients were randomly assigned to a group participating in either T'ai Chi classes or a wellness education and stretching session for a period of 12 weeks. Of those in the T'ai Chi group, 79 percent reported improvement of symptoms, while only 39 percent of those in the wellness group felt they had improved.
Medications used to treat fibromyalgia include antidepressants, anticonvulsants and anti-inflammatory agents but these often fail to bring the relief that patients hope for. As seen with meditative breathing, acupunture and swimming pool exercise sessions, those with fibromyalgia usually do better when conventional treatments are combined with other forms of therapy that employ an entirely different approach. this latest study suggests T'ai Chi is likely to be a useful addition to the therpeutic options currently available for addressing the symptoms of this painful and disabling condition.
The study was carried out by researchers led by Dr. Chenchen Wang, M.D., of the Division of Rheumatology, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, and was part funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Wang and his team concluded that T'ai Chi may be a useful treatment for fibromyalgia and deserves to be studied for a longer duration in studies with a greater number of participants.
Source: Wang C Schmid CH Rones R Kalish R Yinh J Goldenberg DL Lee Y McAlindon T (2010) A randomized trial of tai chi for fibromyalgia New England Journal of Medicine 363(8):743-54
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