A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the effectiveness of tai chi in the treatment of fibromyalgia.
Tai chi is a form of self-defense developed in China more than 2,000 years ago. It consists of flowing, circular movements that emphasize balance and meditation.
Fibromyalgia is a common, painful clinical syndrome. Typical symptoms include muscle pain, stiffness, fatigue, sleep disturbances and mood changes. It affects about 200 million people throughout the world. Symptoms vary with levels of stress, climactic conditions and other triggering events.
Tai chi has been described as an effective way of relieving painful musculoskeletal conditions, including low back pain. It has also provided a complementary treatment for cardiovascular conditions. This is the first time it has been studied in conjunction with fibromyalgia.
The study reported on 66 patients randomly assigned to a group participating in either tai chi classes or a wellness education and stretching session. At least 79 percent of the tai chi participants reported improvement of symptoms, while only 39 percent of the wellness group felt they had improved.
“I'm not surprised by the results of the study,” said David Chandler, a tai chi master from Quaker Hill. “I've worked with many patients with fibromyalgia over the years and in fact some have become tai chi instructors.”
Chandler’s classes include many people with medical conditions who have been encouraged by their physicians to participate in a fitness endeavor. He has found that brief, daily tai chi sessions can be very effective while patients are gradually increasing their stamina.
Medications used to treat fibromyalgia include antidepressants, anticonvulsants and anti-inflammatory agents. The response to long-term medical treatment alone has been disappointing.
Despite the need for further research, the potential benefits of a combined treatment approach that includes tai chi are encouraging.