Tai Chi For Fibromyalgia

Most of us have seen, if not in person, then on the movie screen, Chinese or any group of elderly in a green park starting their day with Tai Chi. It's a thing of beauty to see those smooth coordinated movements, and when Tai Chi is performed by a group, an awe-inspiring vision. Tai Chi Chu'an is the ancient style of Chinese exercise in which a series of movements is performed in slow motion.

This low-impact exercise is aerobic and can enhance grace, balance, coordination and flexibility. Tai chi also strengthens the weight-bearing muscles.

One of the early studies on the use of Tai Chi as a therapy for fibromyalgia studied 39 women with the condition in 2003. The women engaged in an hour of Tai Chi, twice a week, over a 6 week period. Almost half of the women dropped out of the program, more than the rate researchers had expected. Of the 39 women, only 21 of them struggled through 10-12 sessions of Tai Chi. There was no control group.

Looks Effortless

When one witnesses the graceful Tai Chi sessions of experts, it looks effortless to us. But the discipline is difficult to learn and strenuous, in that it involves the contractions of the lower leg muscles in a pattern that is not natural, but learned. Even a healthy beginner may find Tai Chi training leaves him feeling achy all over. Perhaps in this light, one can understand the high attrition of participants in this pilot study. Fibromyalgia patients should be trained with a watchful eye to make sure they don't overdo things.

A later study, begun in August of 2007 and is still ongoing, is called Tai Chi Mind Body Therapy for Fibromyalgia. This study calls itself preliminary and its goal is to see how Tai Chi affects pain, quality of sleep, mobility, depression, and overall well-being in fibromyalgia patients. The study is sponsored both by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the American College of Rheumatology Research and Education Foundation.

This study is very similar to the other trial mentioned in that some participants will perform the traditional Tai Chi movements twice a week for 12 weeks. The number of participants in this study is larger, with 60 active participants recruited over a two year period ending in May 2009. The study chose random participants to enter one of two exercise classes.

Deep Breathing

In one class, beginners' Tai Chi is taught by a master. In the other class, the participants do a combined program of stretching and fitness education.

Tai Chi is a combination of deep breathing, relaxation, and unhurried, graceful movement, all done in tandem. Tai Chi is useful in toning the muscles, reducing stress levels, and improving one's overall health.

Previous studies on Tai Chi as a therapeutic measure for other chronic ailments demonstrated that the discipline benefited the patients by giving them better balance, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of falls in seniors. Even frail patients, who had a history of cardiac issues, were found to manage the Tai Chi exercises with no ill effects.

The earliest conclusion of all the various studies is that Tai Chi is beneficial for fibromyalgia patients, while osteoarthritis patients may receive some benefit. Rheumatoid arthritis patients showed mixed results with Tai Chi.

Special Magic

What sets Tai Chi apart from other exercise programs is that it focuses on both the physical and mental levels and seems to benefit any number of chronic ailments. The physical aspect of Tai Chi is compatible with the types of exercise recommended for fibromyalgia patients: aerobic exercise and muscle conditioning. The mental factor in Tai Chi can improve a person's outlook on life. The combination of the two elements seems to hold some special magic for fibromyalgia patients.


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