Is tai chi beneficial for those with fibromyalgia?
Science: Yes, after 12 weeks those doing tai chi had reduced their FIQ score by 18.4 points more than those in the control group.
Conclusion: Tai chi appears to reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia for most participants.
Non-pharmacologic treatments are needed
Fibromyalgia is a common and poorly understood pain disorder that afflicts an estimated 200 million or more people worldwide. Pharmacological treatments for fibromyalgia are not available to the vast majority of these individuals.
Even when available, prescription treatments for fibromyalgia are often marginally effective or entirely ineffective. Standard drug treatments are also associated with frequent and often severe side effects.
Therefore non-pharmaceutical treatments that provide meaningful relief could be of great benefit to all, but especially to those without access to prescription drugs.
Tai chi, also called tai chi chuan, is a form of Chinese martial art which is largely practiced for its perceived health benefits and to ensure longevity.
There are numerous ‘forms’ of tai chi, but each involves a series of postures or movements performed in a slow, deliberative manner with continuous flowing motion. The effect is low impact exercise and gentle muscle stretching.
The clinical trial summarized below utilized the classic Yang style of tai chi. The results after 12 weeks were impressive. In fact it has been observed that no intervention to date has shown a better outcome.
For that reason, it’s good to be somewhat cautious in interpreting the results. In fact the study authors admit a number of limitations, including the difficulty of constructing a ‘placebo’ appropriate to a non-pharmaceutical intervention.
But that’s always going to be the case for ‘non-pill’ treatments. So if we’re to identify treatments other than ‘pills’ that may be effective in fibromyalgia, we’ll just have to put up with a little uncertainty regarding the ‘placebo’. What’s certain is that the authors made a genuine attempt to include a control, and that they’ve brought to light what might be for many people a very effective treatment.
A randomized trial of tai chi for fibromyalgia.
Summary of the Abstract
Tai chi may offer therapeutic benefit for patients with fibromyalgia. Therefore a trials was conducted in which tai chi was compared with wellness education and stretching, which served as the ‘control’ in this trial.
Two 60 minute sessions were conducted each week for 12 weeks. The primary end point was a change in the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) score at the end of 12 weeks, with subsequent determination at 24 weeks.
A total of 66 patients were studied, half of which participated in the tai chi class and half in the ‘control’ activities. After 12 weeks, FIQ scores for the tai chi group were decreased by 18.4 points more than the decrease observed for the ‘control’ group. (Actual measured decrease was 27.8 for the tai chi group and 9.4 for the control group.)
The difference between tai chi and control groups remained stable at 24 weeks with a difference between treatment and control of 18.3 points.
Tai chi may therefore be useful in the treatment of fibromyalgia.