Fibromyalgia manifests itself through a variety of symptoms that include chronic pain all over the body, and tenderness in joints, tendons and muscles. Chronic fatigue is also a fibromyalgia symptom, as is trouble sleeping, numbness in the limbs, and depression. Fibromyalgia is sometimes associated with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but other times it develops on its own. Treating fibromyalgia has been a challenge because the symptoms are so varied, and because doctors often have to rely on the patient's description of the symptoms.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that tai chi may be effective for treating fibromyalgia. Tai chi martial arts are ancient Chinese practices used for both health benefits and self-defense. A 12 week clinical trial showed that patients with chronic fibromyalgia who underwent tai chi training had alleviated their fibromyalgia symptoms such as chronic fatigue, pain, depression and insomnia, to a greater extent than a control group with the same conditions, who only performed stretching exercises but no tai chi. The patients who performed tai chi were also likelier to have these sustained benefits three months after the treatment concluded.
Although this was not a large scale study, experts considered the results worthy of note, because fibromyalgia is a widespread and complex condition that is often challenging to treat. It affects five million people in the Unites States, with sufferers being mostly female. As the symptoms are so varied, treating fibromyalgia has often been difficult because it often mimics other diseases.
Other studies also suggest that tai chi training, with its emphasis on slow movements, meditation and controlled breathing, could be a treatment for chronic fatigue, arthritis and other pain-related ailments in general. However, conclusive evidence of tai chi as an effective general pain management treatment does not yet exist, and it is difficult to study tai chi rigorously as it has so many variations in style and approach.
Patients in this study received tai chi training in the yang style. They took classes supplemented with tai chi DVDs to practice just 20 minutes as day, and showed improvement in their fibromyalgia symptoms every week. A third of the tai chi students were even able to stop taking their pain medication, whereas only a sixth of the control group (i.e., those who didn't practice tai chi) did the same.
The rheumatologist who conducted the study, Dr. Chenchen Weng, said that she thought tai chi was effective for treating fibromyalgia because it is a complex disease, and tai chi is a holistic therapy, thereby able to simultaneously address the physical, spiritual and psychological dimensions of fibromyalgia.
One patient who had previously tried multiple treatments for fibromyalgia including conventional medication, physical therapy and swimming, all to no avail, said that she felt much better after several weeks of tai chi training, and that after twelve weeks, the fibromyalgia pain had diminished by 90 percent.
So, although tai chi training will not cure fibromyalgia, it definitely holds promise for people looking to control their pain and live happier lives.