Tai chi as good as or better than aerobic exercise for managing chronic pain conditions

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tai chi, fibromyalgia, exercise, fibromyalgia advice, arthritis informationIt may be time to rethink what type of exercise is most effective for people with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia following the publication of new research in the British Medical Journal.

The study shows that the ancient martial art of tai chi has similar or even greater benefits than aerobic exercise for people with fibromyalgia.

Aerobic exercise is recommended as a standard treatment for fibromyalgia, but many people with the pain condition find it difficult to exercise due to fluctuations in symptoms.

So a team of US researchers set out to compare tai chi with aerobic exercise in 226 adults (average aged 52 years) with fibromyalgia (for about nine years) who had not participated in tai chi or other similar types of complementary medicine within the past six months.

The volunteers completed the fibromyalgia impact questionnaire (FIQR), which scores physical and psychological symptoms such as pain intensity, physical function, fatigue, depression, anxiety and overall wellbeing.

They were then split into groups: supervised aerobic exercise twice weekly for 24 weeks; or to one of four tai chi interventions (12 or 24 weeks of supervised tai chi completed once or twice weekly). They continued to take their routine medication.

Scores improved in all five treatment groups at each assessment, but the combined tai chi groups improved more than the aerobic exercise group at 24 weeks. Tai chi also showed greater benefit when compared with aerobic exercise of the same intensity and duration (twice weekly for 24 weeks).

Those who had tai chi for 24 weeks showed greater improvements than those who received it for 12 weeks, but there was no increase in benefit for those who had tai chi twice weekly compared with once weekly.

“Tai chi mind-body treatment results in similar or greater improvement in symptoms than aerobic exercise, the current most commonly prescribed non-drug treatment, for a variety of outcomes for patients with fibromyalgia,” the authors highlight. “This mind-body approach may be considered a therapeutic option in the multidisciplinary management of fibromyalgia.”

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