BOSTON (Reuters) - The slow, flowing
movements of tai chi are better for relieving pain and other
symptoms of fibromyalgia than conventional stretching exercises,
doctors reported on Wednesday.
The improvements continued throughout the
three months of lessons for 33 volunteers receiving the movement and
breathing exercises, study leader Dr. Chenchen Wang of the Tufts
University School of Medicine in Boston said in a telephone
"Week by week they changed. The pain and
depression improved, and a lot of people were depressed," said Wang,
whose study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"They feel better. People said it changed
their life. Only two or three feel it didn't help."
Although they said the study should be
repeated with a larger group to see if, for example, the enthusiasm
of the instructor played a role, Dr. Gloria Yeh and her colleagues
at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston said it might be
time to give tai chi a chance.
"Aside from reductions in pain, patients in
the tai chi group reported improvements in mood, quality of life,
sleep, self-efficacy and exercise capacity," Yeh's team wrote in a
commentary in the same journal.
"The potential efficacy and lack of adverse
effects now make it reasonable for physicians to support patients'
interest in exploring these types of exercises, even if it is too early to take out a
prescription pad and write 'tai chi,'" they wrote.
Fibromyalgia, which may affect 200 million
people worldwide, is difficult to diagnose and hard to treat, with
no clear guidelines for symptoms that include pain, fatigue,
stiffness and sleep difficulties.
There is evidence that it may be caused by a
heightened sensitivity to pain and patients often turn to
alternative therapies such as tai chi, yoga, acupuncture or
Tai chi originated as a Chinese martial art
that focuses on slow, graceful movements, breathing and relaxation
in an effort to move a hypothetical energy throughout the body.
Volunteers in the tai chi group took 60-minute classes twice a week for three
months from a tai
chi master and were encouraged to practice at least 20 minutes per
Another group got health lectures and
stretching classes, comparable to what people do when they wake up
in the morning. "This was not real exercise," Wang said. Further
tests comparing exercise to tai chi are planned.
To assess the effectiveness of both
treatments, the Wang team used several assessment tools, including
one that measured fibromyalgia symptoms on a 100-point scale. The
people taking tai chi saw their scores improve by an average of 28
points, compared to a nine-point improvement in the stretching
Researchers should test the technique with a
larger group for a longer period, compare different styles, and see
if it is better than other forms of exercise, such as yoga, Yeh
Edited by Maggie Fox
Photo Chen Xiao Wang, Chen Tai Chi,