Qigong: Alternative Treatment for Chronic Pain

In its simplest form, Qigong is an alternative worth considering for holistic treatment of chronic pain.

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

Often times, the treatment of chronic pain requires a very holistic approach. The combination of both Western and Eastern medicine is a very effective way to get the best of both sides of the world. Modern, western medicine concentrates heavily in procedures and medications. While ancient, eastern medicine, concentrates heavily on the power of the mind and qi (the life force). One component of eastern medicine that has been around for centuries is Qigong. In its simplest form, Qigong is an alternative worth considering for holistic treatment of chronic pain.

For the practice of Qigong to be going strong since the 8th century B.C, this component of Chinese medicine must have some real, tangible merit. In its most basic meditative form, Qigong influences the flow of qi, the life force. Although movement is not required, movement is often integrated into the breathing and meditative exercises. A more dynamic type of Qigong is Tai Chi which is based on complex movements which have combat applications; hence, Tai Chi is considered a "martial art". Although Tai Chi has been shown to be beneficial for some painful conditions, it may not be as widely appealing or appropriate to all comers because the movements of Tai Chi are so complicated.

In fact, some believe the principle goal of moving qi is lost in the forest of combat-based movements. On the other hand, Qigong gets back to the basic principle of improving the life force flow through a practice of meditation, breathing, and slow, simple movements. Qigong is an alternative treatment for chronic pain.

Qigong lends itself to the treatment of pain on a many of different levels. First, the re-establishment of normal deeper breathing patterns that are disrupted by chronic pain can improve the flow of oxygen and reduce anxiety. Second, the performance of safe, simple movements can help overcome the fear of movement in someone who lives with pain. This movement can also help to mobilizes a sensitive nervous system and desensitize it. Overtime, movement can then become less and less painful. Finally, Qigong can improve general health by strengthening the life force within each individual who practices this ancient form of Chinese medicine. But, what does modern evidence-based medicine have to say about Qigong?

Well, the results are very favorable. Researchers in Germany studied a group of individuals with chronic neck pain. Those who practiced Qigong for only three months experienced significant improvements compared to those who did nothing. Researchers in Sweden found that those who have fibromyalgia experienced pain relief after only seven weeks of Qigong sessions. These benefits continued to be maintained if not improved upon even four months after the lessons stopped. Here in the United States, researchers compared the effects of sham Qigong to real Qigong and discovered that the pain relief with Qigong was more than just a placebo effect. This ancient form of Chinese medicine that has been around since the 8th century B.C really does have some merit.

With results in as little as seven weeks, Qigong is a viable alternative for treating many types of painful conditions. Significant benefits can be gained just by virtue of improving movement and breathing patterns while at the same time reducing fear and anxiety. Qigong is simpler and more accessible than its cousin Tai Chi; thus, may be more appropriate for those who live with chronic pain, at least as a starting point. Even when there are those who do not believe in a life force or the ability to move the life force, no one can deny the benefits of breathing and movement. These benefits have withstood the tests of time. Given time, the practice of Qigong for the treatment of pain just might be a doorway to transformation.

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.