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Fibromyalgia Health Center

Tai Chi: Best Fibromyalgia Treatment?

Study Shows Fibromyalgia Symptoms Much Better After 12 Weeks of Tai Chi
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Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia -- and Arthritis continued...

Over the past decade, Wang's team has found that tai chi helps patients with a variety of long-term health conditions. That led them to their fibromyalgia clinical trial, which enrolled 66 patients who had suffered from fibromyalgia for 11 years on average.

The patients were told they were in a study of two different exercise regimens, in which one group would receive nutrition education. Wang says most patients had hoped to be included in the education/exercise group, which they were led to believe was the more sophisticated intervention. In reality, that was the comparison group, in which 33 patients received twice-weekly, hour-long wellness education and did stretching exercises.

The other group worked with tai chi master Ramel Rones of Boston's Mind-Body Therapies. Hour-long training sessions took place twice a week for 12 weeks. They included an explanation of tai chi theory and instruction in 10 "forms" of the classic Yang style of tai chi. Training also included training in meditation, breathing techniques, and relaxation. Patients were told to practice at home for at least 20 minutes a day.

"The Yang style is very soft and gentle. We always teach the gentle, slow, big movements and lots of meditation," Wang says.

Fibromyalgia patients aren't the only ones to benefit. At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Leigh F. Callahan, PhD, and colleagues have just completed a study of tai chi for patients with all kinds of arthritis, including fibromyalgia.

"We found very similar results to the Wang study," Callahan tells WebMD. "We found improvement in pain, stiffness, and fatigue. We saw improvements in sleep measure, self-efficacy, and balance. And people with arthritis were more aware of the space around them and had more confidence that they are not going to fall as easily."

Patients in the Wang and Callahan studies did not stop taking prescribed medications, although patients in the Wang study reported taking their medications less often. Callahan says tai chi is not meant to replace other treatments but should be added to other effective therapies.

What is it about tai chi that is so helpful? Wang and Callahan each say it's not a single thing. Tai chi is a complex integration of mental, spiritual, philosophical, and physical practices. Moreover, patients tend to bond with one another in the classes. Wang and Callahan both report that patients bond with one another in ways that clearly add to the positive effects.

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