Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia

About 12 million Americans suffer from Fibromyalgia. People who have Fibromyalgia describe symptoms such as chronic muscle pain, tender spots, pain at trigger points, fatigue and trouble sleeping. Fibromyalgia is the most common musculoskeletal condition after osteoarthritis.  There is no consensus on the cause, but theories range from stress to genetics to hormonal disturbances. There is no cure for Fibromyalgia but there are treatments, which include medications, exercises and relaxation techniques. We are going to tell you about a study that investigated Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia.

In this study, one group practiced Tai Chi for 60 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks. The other group took wellness classes (coping with Fibromyalgia, pain management, lifestyle changes) and participated in stretching exercises. The participants were randomly assigned to one of the groups and the study excluded people who already practiced Tai Chi. People who had already been diagnosed with illness with symptoms similar to Fibromyalgia, such as osteoarthritis, vasculitis, myositis etc. were also excluded from the study.

Before the Tai Chi and wellness/stretching classes, the participants filled out questionnaires called the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ). “The FIQ is a well-validated, multidimensional measure of the overall severity of fibromyalgia as rated by patients. Categories include the intensity of pain, physical functioning, fatigue, morning tiredness, stiffness, depression, anxiety, job difficulty, and overall well-being. The total score ranges from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more severe symptoms.” The researchers collected FIQ scores weekly and also had physicians evaluate the participants’ symptoms.

After 12 weeks, the 33 participants in the tai chi group had clinically important improvements in the FIQ total score and quality of life compared to the 33 in the other group. The improvements continued even 24 weeks later. The researchers could not identify the biological mechanisms responsible for the positive outcomes for the Tai Chi but had some theories. Physical exercise has been shown to help Fibromyalgia patients and since Tai Chi is an exercise (although it does not feel like torture!) it is thought to help by increasing muscle strength and blood lactate levels which would reduce pain. Additionally, a mind-body exercise like Tai Chi has mental, emotional and social benefits. Tai Chi increases confidence and reduces the fear of falling and pain. Furthermore, the breathing exercises in Tai Chi are relaxing and lead to reduced stress, reduces muscle tension and calm the mind. This is thought to reduce pain thresholds and break pain cycles. Additionally, “all these components may influence neuroendocrine and immune function as well as neurochemical and analgesic pathways that lead to enhanced physical, psychological, and psychosocial well-being and overall quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia.”

In summary, Tai Chi may be a great choice for helping manage the symptoms of Fibromyalgia, either alone or when combined with other treatments. While additional studies may be necessary to pinpoint how and why it works and exactly which forms to focus on, if any, this study is enough to at least warrant trying it out to manage your Fibromyalgia.

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