Researchers at Tufts University Medical Center in Boston recently conducted a study looking at the effects of Tai Chi on fibromyalgia symptoms. Tai Chi (also known as Tai Chi Chuan) is an Eastern form of martial arts that combines meditation, slow, gentle movement, deep breathing and relaxation. It is known for helping with muscle strength, posture, balance, sleep, and coordination.
Study Methods and Results
In this study, 66 patients were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Each group consisted of 33 participants, 88% female and 12% male, with an average age of 50.
- One group took part in a 12-week program of classic Yang-style tai chi consisting of 60-minute sessions twice a week for 12 weeks. This group was also given a DVD so they could practice at home for 20 minutes a day.
- The control group took part in a 12-week wellness education program which included twice weekly stetching exercises.
After 12 weeks, the tai chi group reported clinically and statistically significant improvements including:
- Reduced muscle painkillers
- Improved sleep
- Less depression
- Higher quality of life
- Improved exercise capacity
In the tai chi group, 35% of participants were able to stop taking medications for their fibromyalgia, compared with only 15% in the control group. The tai chi group also performed better on assessments of physical ability, such as the six-minute walk test. After 24 weeks, the reported benefits were significantly sustained. There were no adverse events reported during the study.
Fibromyalgia is usually best managed using a multi-disciplined approach which includes prescription medications, alternative therapies, gentle exercise and lifestyle adaptations. Tai chi would certainly qualify as an excellent exercise and might also be considered an alternative therapy.
A New York Times article reported interviewing one of the participants from the tai chi group in this study. She said she was highly skeptical going into the study, but after 12 weeks her pain had gone down 90 percent. She was so pleased with the results that she continued doing tai chi and has since lost 50 pounds and can walk three to seven miles a day. Impressive results.
I have personally tried tai chi two different times. Unfortunately I didn't stick with it either time – mainly because I couldn't seem to remember the movements so I could practice on a regular basis and I'm not sure doing it once a week would be all that helpful. But after seeing the results of this study, I think I may look for a tai chi instructional DVD so I can do it at home and give it another try.
My friend Ethel began taking tai chi classes with me five years ago but unlike me, she stuck with it. At 78 years of age, Ethel credits tai chi with keeping her on her feet. (In recent years, the FM has been affecting her legs legs more and more.) When talking about going to her tai chi classes, she said, “I feel like I've kept myself out of a wheelchair.”
If you've tried tai chi, I'd love to hear about your experience. Just click on “Comments” below to share.
Wang, Chenchen, et al. A randomized trial of tai chi for fibromyalgia. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010(Aug); 363:743-754.
Leavitt, SB. Study supports tai chi for fibromyalgia pain. Pain-Topics.org. August 21, 2010.
Belluck, Pam. Tai chi reported to ease fibromyalgia. The New York Times. August 18, 2010.