Quick Study: Fibromyalgia:
Tai chi may help improve quality of life
THE QUESTION Might the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia be relieved by tai chi, the mind-body exercise of Chinese origin that combines gentle, graceful, continuous movements with deep breathing and relaxation techniques?
THIS STUDY involved 66 people, mostly women, who averaged 50 years old and who had had fibromyalgia for 11 years, on average. They were randomly assigned to participate in a one-hour tai chi class twice a week and to practice tai chi at home for at least 20 minutes daily or to participate in one-hour classes twice a week that included information sessions (on coping strategies, pain management, nutrition, etc.) and stretching exercises and to practice stretching at home for 20 minutes daily. After three months, tai chi practitioners reported less pain, better sleep, improved physical functioning and better life quality overall, compared with the others. Their scores on a standardized scale for fibromyalgia symptoms fell, on average, 28 points (from 63 to 35 on a 0-100 scale, with higher scores reflecting more-severe symptoms), compared with a nine-point drop (from 68 to 59 points) for the others.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by widespread muscle pain, extreme tenderness at various points on the body and fatigue. It affects women more than men.
CAVEATS Data were based on the participants' ratings of their pain and their answers to questionnaires. The number of participants was small, and the study did not assess long-term effectiveness. The results may have been influenced by participants' beliefs and expectations, although the researchers said they tried to de-emphasize tai chi by telling participants that the study would test the effects of two types of exercise programs, one combined with education.
FIND THIS STUDY Aug. 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
-- Linda Searing
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.