Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia

Traditional medical doctors are now looking to ancient Chinese martial arts to help battle fibromyalgia. That's because new research shows that practicing Tai Chi can be a powerful way to conquer this mysterious and sometimes debilitating condition. 

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points (where slight pressure causes pain). It is associated with depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome and affects millions of Americans, mostly women. It is usually treated with varying degrees of success with antidepressant/anti-anxiety and pain medications along with physical and occupational therapy. Doctors are now discovering some of the best remedies come from alternative practices, including Tai Chi.

A study conducted by Tufts University and published in the August 2010 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine showed significant improvement of symptoms when patients practiced twice-weekly tai chi classes along with daily 20-minute sessions guided by DVD. This small study followed 66 patients with fibromyalgia for 12 weeks.  33 were assigned to the Tai Chi group and 33 were assigned to twice-weekly stretching classes and educational seminars about their condition. 

The fibromyalgia study involved the Yang style of tai chi, taught by a Boston tai chi master and included a warm up, self-massage, a review of movements, breathing techniques, and relaxation. During the study, the Tai Chi group demonstrated more weekly improvement than the stretching-and-education-group based on physicians' assessments, sleep, walking and mental health. Following the study, one-third stopped using medication, compared with only one-sixth in the stretching group and the benefits had longer lasting results.

Why Does Tai Chi Work? 

In a New York Times article, Dr. Chenchen Wang, (a Tufts rheumatologist who led the study), said she attributed the results to the fact that "fibromyalgia is a very complex problem" and "tai chi has multiple components--physical, psychological, social and spiritual."  Other forms of complementary and alternative medicine that show promising results are meditation and yoga, both of which include physical, psychological, spiritual and sometimes social components.

Tai Chi is an intentionally slow-paced and gentle practice and is considered safe for almost everyone. Tai Chi classes are taught all over the world.  It's best to begin any new fitness program with your doctor's approval and a trained expert, but if you want to try it out in the privacy of your own home, there are countless Tai Chi classes available on DVD or the Internet.


A Randomized Trial of Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia

Chenchen Wang, M.D., M.P.H., Christopher H. Schmid, Ph.D., Ramel Rones, B.S., Robert Kalish, M.D., Janeth Yinh, M.D., Don L. Goldenberg, M.D., Yoojin Lee, M.S., and Timothy McAlindon, M.D., M.P.H.

N Engl J Med 2010; 363:743-754 August 19, 2010


Supreme Living - An Online Journal by the American Tai Chi and Qi Gong Association

Funded by The United States National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health