Tai Chi Benefits Fibromyalgia Patients

Tai Chi Benefits Fibromyalgia Patients

26 August 2018 by Caitlin Armit

Tai Chi Benefits Fibromyalgia Patients

The results of a recent study published in BMJ in March 2018 indicated that Tai Chi, a martial art, may be better than aerobic exercise for improving the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

The 52 week single blind trial led by Chenchen Wang MD at Tufts University School of Medicine showed that tai chi was associated with greater improvements in depression, anxiety, self efficacy and the mental component of the Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36) quality of life measure.

Fibromyalgia symptoms include chronic pain, fatigue, poor sleep and psychological problems. For fibromyalgia sufferers aerobic exercise can be difficult to maintain due to low energy levels and fluctuation of symptoms. Fibromyalgia affects 2-4% of the general population between the ages of 18 to 65 years. In this study, the average age of participants was 52 years and 92% were women. On average, participants had experienced body pain for 9 years.

Participants in this study were 226 fibromyalgia sufferers who were randomly assigned into one of two groups. Group A were assigned to aerobic exercise twice per week for 24 weeks (n=75) and group B were assigned to one of four ‘yang-style’ tai chi sessions once or twice per week for 12 or 24 weeks (n=151).  Researchers were particularly interested in the optimum duration and frequency of participation in tai chi exercise to achieve results. Each session was 1 hour duration and participants in both groups were encouraged to practice at least 30 minutes of their assigned exercise in their daily routine during the trial period and to continue this until the 52 week mark. Interestingly, the class attendance rate was higher in the tai chi groups (62%) compared to the aerobic exercise group (40%) indicating that patient compliance was higher with a more gentle, low impact sequence known for it’s focus on mind-body connection.

At 24 weeks, the participation rate was 81% (n=183) and FIQR scores improved for participants across all groups compared to baseline as well as a general decrease in the use of medications. However, the FIQR scores in the tai chi groups was significantly greater than in the aerobic exercise group. There was also a statistically significant difference where the 24 week tai chi group who reported greater improvements than those in the 12 week tai chi group, indicating that duration of treatment was important. Frequency however did not result in a significant difference, suggesting that it may not matter whether tai chi classes are performed once or twice per week to achieve results. The tai chi groups also saw significant improvements in secondary outcomes at 24 weeks including patient global assessment, hospital anxiety and depression scale anxiety scores, self efficacy and coping strategies.

Both the aerobic exercise group and tai chi groups participants experienced adverse events (total n = 154) with most of these being minor musculoskeletal incidents. The authors noted that 8 of these adverse events in the tai chi group and 4 of these adverse events in the aerobic exercise group were related to the activities.

The authors suggest that the results of this study should be sufficient to reassess the popular recommendation of aerobic exercise for people with fibromyalgia. They note that tai chi may be more beneficial for managing chronic pain, emotional health, balance and motor skills, concentration and memory and that it has better overall compliance from patients.


Effect of tai chi versus aerobic exercise for fibromyalgia: comparative effectiveness randomized controlled trial


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