Fibromyalgia is a disorder that involves chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and sleep problems. Although only 4% of the population between 18 and 65 is thought to be affected by it, this disease is associated with serious physical and psychological impairment, low quality of life and high health-care costs. Some people facing this disease have been prescribed opioid medications, which may provide short-term relief, but typically lead to greater health risks and early mortality long-term.
Although there is currently no cure for fibromyalgia and the exact cause is still unknown, many researchers believe it to be related to neuro-endocrine dysfunction, and some have questioned whether integrative therapies, such as taiji might be helpful in reducing its symptoms. A recent study by Wang and colleagues (2018) publish in the British Medical Journal, shared findings on the effectiveness of a taiji intervention.
The study included 226 adults with fibromyalgia. 151 of them were assigned to Yang style taiji groups, while 75 were assigned to aerobic exercise groups. Some of the taiji groups met once a week and others met twice a week, while all the aerobic groups met twice a week. While researchers were looking for change in fibromyalgia symptoms and associated indicators of physical function, wellbeing and quality of life, the variability in frequency of practice also allowed them to see if the “dose” of taiji made any difference for this condition.
The results of the study showed that all treatment groups benefited, but the taiji groups reported significantly better outcomes than the aerobic exercise groups, but the greatest benefits were seen in the taiji group that met twice a week for 24 weeks in areas that included reduction of physical pain and depressive symptoms and improvements in physical function. The authors of the study concluded that taiji is capable of providing similar or better results than exercise, which is the non-drug treatment most commonly prescribed for fibromyalgia and related symptoms.
As promising as these findings are, it is important to remember that taiji coaches without medical credentials should not offer treatment or make treatment claims to individuals with specific conditions. Coaches can train individuals in taiji practice and educate them about findings in the literature, but it is important to leave prescriptions to health-care providers. Still, we can share in our students’ joy when they find relief from symptoms through their taiji practice.
About the Author
Matthew Komelski teaches courses for the Department of Human Development, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Blacksburg, Virginia, where he recieved a Ph.D. in Human Development. He is an avid researcher in his teaching areas, and teaches a variety of martial arts classes. Matt was on the committee that planned the content areas for this newsletter 12 years ago. Reporting research regarding taiji and qigong was one of 3 research priorities identified. Matt has been the leading author in this area since the newsletter's inception.