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Tai chi helps people with chronic pain, study finds

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Exercise can help people suffering with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes widespread body pain. But what type of exercise is best?

Aerobic exercise is currently recommended as a standard treatment for fibromyalgia, but many patients find it difficult to participate due to fluctuations in symptoms, according to The BMJ.

New research published by The BMJ compared aerobic exercise with the ancient martial art of tai chi.

The researchers wanted to determine the effectiveness of tai chi versus aerobic exercise, and to test whether the effectiveness of tai chi depends on its frequency or duration.

For the trial, the team identified 226 adults with fibromyalgia who had not participated in tai chi or other similar types of complementary and alternative medicine within the past six months.

Participants completed a survey known as the fibromyalgia impact questionnaire (FIQR), which scores physical and psychological symptoms such as pain intensity, physical function, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and overall wellbeing.

They were then randomly assigned to either supervised aerobic exercise twice weekly for 24 weeks or to one of four tai chi interventions: 12 or 24 weeks of supervised tai chi completed once or twice weekly.

Changes in symptom scores were assessed at 12, 24 and 52 weeks and participants were able to continue routine drugs and usual visits to their physicians throughout the trial.

The results showed that FIQR scores improved in all five treatment groups at each assessment, but the combined tai chi groups improved significantly more than the aerobic exercise group at 24 weeks. Tai chi also showed greater benefit when compared with aerobic exercise of the same intensity and duration (twice weekly for 24 weeks).

Those who received tai chi for 24 weeks showed greater improvements than those who received it for 12 weeks, but there was no significant increase in benefit for those who received tai chi twice weekly compared with once weekly.

“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,” the researchers concluded. “This mind-body approach may be considered a therapeutic option in the multidisciplinary management of fibromyalgia.”

https://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/tai-chi-as-good-as-or-better-than-aerobic-exercise-for-managing-chronic-pain/

https://www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.k851