Could Tai Chi Be the Answer to Chronic Pain Relief?


When it comes to chronic pain, sufferers experience more than just pain. In fact, about 59% of those who suffer from chronic pain say their pain has an impact on their overall enjoyment of life. While there are a variety of treatment options for chronic pain, not all treatment methods work for each individual. From pain medications to acupuncture to physical therapy, there are a lot of treatment options patients can try. However new research suggested that tai chi may help reduce pain in fibromyalgia patients.

A new study published in the BMJ reports that tai chi can help reduce the pain effects of fibromyalgia. This condition causes muscle pain throughout the entire body, fatigue, and even depression or other mental health conditions. But researchers say this ancient martial arts practice can provide the physical and psychological exercises needed to improve fibromyalgia symptoms.

The study was conducted by Dr. Chenchen Wang, director of the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine and Tufts Medical Center and her colleagues. The researchers studied 226 people with fibromyalgia for one year. The participants were randomly assigned a currently recommended aerobic exercise routine or one of four tai chi sessions. The researchers measured the participants’ symptoms of physical pain, as well as the psychological effects their condition caused, at the beginning of the study and at 12, 24, and 52 weeks in.

All five treatment groups reported improvements at each assessment, but the tai chi groups improved significantly more after 24 weeks. Additionally, those who practiced tai chi for a longer period of time showed more improvement than those who participated for shorter times.

The study measured a variety of factors related to fibromyalgia. These factors included pain intensity, functionality, overall fatigue, levels of depression, and sleep patterns. Throughout the study, all participants reduced the amount of pain medications, antidepressants, and muscle relaxers they were taking.

“Tai chi mind-body treatment results in similar or greater improvement in symptoms than aerobic exercise, the current most commonly prescribed non-drug treatment, for a variety of outcomes for patients with fibromyalgia,” explained the authors. “This mind-body approach may be considered a therapeutic option in the multi-disciplinary management of fibromyalgia.”

While the study had limitations, like the participants being aware of their assignment and attendance differences, this is the first tai chi study to offer a large, diverse sample and a longer follow-up.

Current sufferers of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions tend to rely on pain medications and surgeries. With 46.5 million surgeries being performed in the U.S. every year, alternative treatment options could significantly reduce the number of surgeries and pain medication prescriptions.

Wang says that tai chi proves to be an effective pain management option for chronic pain sufferers, particularly those with chronic fatigue. The researchers hope doctors will consider tai chi as a possible treatment for those who are looking to manage their chronic pain.

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