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How does Tai Chi work as therapy for fibromyalgia?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Tai chi is an ancient mind-body practice, originally from China, that is a particularly good therapy for fibromyalgia. Exercise is important for everyone, especially for people with fibromyalgia. But popular kinds of exercise like running are difficult when you have so much pain. Tai chi's slow, gentle, graceful movements are ideal for people with fibromyalgia. The deep breathing and relaxation that are also part of tai chi can help you feel better, too. If you want to try tai chi, look for a class for people with fibromyalgia. If you can't find one, talk to your tai chi teacher about your condition before class starts.
Practicing the ancient discipline of tai chi appears to help relieve pain and improve other symptoms of fibromyalgia. Tai chi, which was originally created as a form of martial art in China, combines graceful movements with deep breathing and relaxation techniques. Tai chi is sometimes referred to as moving meditation. 

In one 2010 study, people with fibromyalgia who practiced tai chi for six months reported a significant reduction in pain. They also had less muscle stiffness, slept better, and felt less fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

If you decide to try tai chi, keep in mind that you may experience sore muscles when you first begin. If you have any questions about tai chi and how it can help treat your fibromyalgia, talk with your doctor.
A clinical trial at Tufts Medical Center discovered that after 12 weeks of Tai Chi (60 minute sessions, twice per week), patients (66 subjects) with the chronic pain syndrome known as fibromyalgia performed significantly better on measurements of pain, fatigue, depression and sleep. Subjects were then tested again at 24 weeks to see if the findings persisted, which they did. The study design was excellent, and the journal that published the study is of particular significance. Historically it has been very difficult to define fibromyalgia, since there are no blood tests or biopsies that can be done for diagnosis. To have one of the most respected medical journals accept an article about this topic helps validate its existence.

Tai chi and chi-gong (quigong) are two forms of ancient Chinese medicine that combine gentle martial-arts-based movement, postural exercises, breathing exercises, and mindfulness meditation. Tai chi is one of many types of chi-gong (qigong), and both disciplines were developed centuries ago as techniques for enhancing the body's vital life energy (or chi) as a way to heal disease and increase well-being. Both activities have received some serious attention of late from fibromyalgia researchers.

More study is needed to confirm whether the exercises have a direct effect on pain, but findings do suggest they might enhance the ability to cope with it. And both exercise forms have helped relieve anxiety and depression in people with fibromyalgia. Tai chi seems to enhance balance and lower body flexibility as well.

Dawn Marcus
Neurology
A well-designed study tested the benefits for people with fibromyalgia of tai chi taught by a master for 60-minute sessions, twice a week for 12 weeks. In addition to these classes, participants were instructed to practice stretching at home for 20 minutes each day. After completing this treatment, the participants' pain levels were reduced by 43%, disability decreased by 44%, sleep improved by 26%, and mood improved by 36%. These benefits were still present when the participants were examined 3 months later.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.