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Tai Chi: Best Fibromyalgia Treatment?

Study Shows Fibromyalgia Symptoms Much Better After 12 Weeks of Tai Chi

Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia -- and Arthritis continued...

"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.

While Wang's patients studied with a master trainer who has more than 20 years of experience teaching tai chi, Callahan reports that newly trained, certified instructors seem to be just as effective as master trainers in helping patients with chronic disease.

"Tell patients there are no side effects," Wang says. "Some patients still find they have pain -- exercise always leads to some pain -- but this is very safe."

The Wang study, and an editorial by Yeh and colleagues, appear in the Aug. 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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