Saturday, August 21, 2010

Study Supports Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia Pain

FibromyalgiaFibromyalgia is typically managed with a multifaceted approach involving pharmacotherapy, psychological counseling, education, and exercise. Now, new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the ancient Chinese practice of tai chi may offer significant and extensive benefits.

Researchers at Tufts University Medical Center in Boston, Mass., conducted a single-blind trial enrolling patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia who were randomly assigned to either classic Yang-style tai chi (n=33, 85% female) as compared with a control intervention consisting of wellness education and stretching (n=33, 88% female). All participants were 50 years of age, on average, and each group had 60-minute twice-weekly sessions for 12 weeks.

At the end of 12 weeks, the tai chi group reported greater relief from muscle pain, better sleep, and a higher quality of life with less depression; all outcomes were both clinically and statistically significant. Tai chi participants also performed better on assessments of physical abilities, such as a 6-minute walk test, and approximately 35% of participants in the tai chi group were able to stop taking medications for their fibromyalgia, compared with only 15% in the control group. All benefits were significantly sustained at 24 weeks and no adverse events were reported during the study.

COMMENTARY: Tai chi combines meditation with slow, gentle, graceful movements, as well as deep breathing and relaxation exercises. During guided sessions, participants in this study were instructed in the classic Yang style of tai chi, which included a warmup, self-massage, a review of movements, breathing techniques, and relaxation. They also used an instructional DVD for 20 minutes a day between classes to practice their techniques.

Biological mechanisms explaining how tai chi may help to relieve fibromyalgia symptoms are unclear. Tai chi involves mild physical exercises, which have been shown to improve the condition. The authors further speculate that the meditative and controlled breathing components may promote a more restful state, raise pain thresholds, and favorably influence neuroendocrine and immune functions. Although, some benefits also might be attributed to a placebo effect, this may not matter to patients who achieve significant symptom relief. The positive outcomes in this small study, along with the lack of adverse effects, may recommend tai chi as one of those therapies that is unlikely to do any harm and has significant potential to at least benefit overall health and well-being in patients with fibromyalgia.

> Wang C, Schmid CH, Rones R, et al. A Randomized Trial of Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia. N Engl J Med 2010(Aug); 363:743-754 [
abstract here].
> For additional Fibromyalgia guidelines, reviews, and other evidence sources visit [