Tai Chi: Worth a Try for Fibromyalgia


Fibromyalgia affects approximately 5 million adults, primarily women, and appears to be more common among people with rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic conditions. The condition is characterized by widespread muscle pain, fatigue, and the presence of what are called “tender points”-18 specific sites on the body that are exceptionally sensitive to pressure. Physical activity improves symptoms of fibromyalgia, and a study published last year in BMJ suggests that the ancient discipline of tai chi is a good alternative to walking and other types of aerobic exercise.

Tai chi is a relaxing form of exercise that involves gentle movements, with emphasis on mental focus and breathing techniques. Researchers asked 226 adults with fibromyalgia to rate their pain, mood, and several other symptoms on a 100-point scale. Then, 151 participants were assigned to one of four different supervised tai chi programs that lasted from 12 to 24 weeks. The other 75 subjects took part in a supervised 24-week aerobic exercise program and were instructed to walk daily for up to 30 minutes.

Patients were followed for one year, then had their symptoms scored again. All fared better, but subjects in the 24-week tai chi program improved the most. The authors determined that tai chi is at least as effective as aerobic exercise for controlling symptoms.

Fibromyalgia patients often find it a struggle to exercise, but those assigned to the tai chi group had better attendance at workout sessions than others in the aerobic exercise group. If you find it hard to stick with a workout plan, tai chi may be worth a try.