Fibromyalgia is a common and poorly understood pain disorder that afflicts an estimated 200 million or more people worldwide. The lack of objective abnormalities detected on physical examination and standard blood and imaging tests has led many physicians to question the existence of this disorder.
However, for those experiencing the pain and other associated symptoms (including fatigue, stiffness, and nonrestorative sleep), there is little doubt that the condition is real — and so is the need for relief.
Previous research has suggested that tai chi offers a therapeutic benefit in patients with fibromyalgia.
Researchers conducted a single-blind, randomized trial of classic Yang-style tai chi as compared with a control intervention consisting of wellness education and stretching for the treatment of fibromyalgia (defined by American College of Rheumatology 1990 criteria).
Sessions lasted 60 minutes each and took place twice a week for 12 weeks for each of the study groups. The primary end point was a change in the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) score (ranging from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more severe symptoms) at the end of 12 weeks. Secondary end points included summary scores on the physical and mental components of the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36). All assessments were repeated at 24 weeks to test the durability of the response.
Of the 66 randomly assigned patients, the 33 in the tai chi group had clinically important improvements in the FIQ total score and quality of life. Mean (±SD) baseline and 12-week FIQ scores for the tai chi group were 62.9±15.5 and 35.1±18.8, respectively, versus 68.0±11 and 58.6±17.6, respectively, for the control group (change from baseline in the tai chi group vs. change from baseline in the control group, −18.4 points; P<0.001).
The corresponding SF-36 physical-component scores were 28.5±8.4 and 37.0±10.5 for the tai chi group versus 28.0±7.8 and 29.4±7.4 for the control group (between-group difference, 7.1 points; P=0.001), and the mental-component scores were 42.6±12.2 and 50.3±10.2 for the tai chi group versus 37.8±10.5 and 39.4±11.9 for the control group (between-group difference, 6.1 points; P=0.03).
Improvements were maintained at 24 weeks (between-group difference in the FIQ score, −18.3 points; P<0.001). No adverse events were observed.
Tai chi may be a useful treatment for fibromyalgia and merits long-term study in larger study populations.
From the Division of Rheumatology (C.W., R.K., J.Y., T.M.) and the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies (C.H.S., Y.L.), Tufts Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine; and Mind–Body Therapies (R.R.) — both in Boston; and Newton–Wellesley Hospital, Newton, MA (D.L.G.).
Address reprint requests to Dr. Wang at the Division of Rheumatology, Tufts Medical Center, 800 Washington St., Box 406, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02111, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.