Recent research, published in the BMJ (previously British Medical Journal) investigated the efficacy of Tai Chi compared to aerobic exercise for the management of Fibromyalgia.
Moderate aerobic exercise is commonly recommended as a key component of Fibromyalgia management, with significant research highlighting its effectiveness in managing FMS symptoms. However, this recommendation can often be met with reluctance from patients who may have concerns about pain and fatigue even with gentle movements, and can therefore result in low adherence to the exercise programmes.
Tai chi is a form of mind-body exercise and martial art, originating in China. It typically involves slow, flowing, and natural movement; abdominal breathing; and hand pushing actions. The aerobic exercise groups studied followed typical advice for Fibromyalgia patients, such as gradually increasing volume and intensity to meet a moderate level, and incorporating appropriate warm-up and cool-downs.
The study, led by C. Wang of the Tufts University School of Medicine, found that participants had improved adherence to the tai chi programme over the aerobic programme, and that those who completed the tai chi programme experienced significant reductions in their Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire scores. They also reported improvement in other symptoms such as anxiety, depression, sense of self efficacy, and sleep.
While the tai chi groups reported improved scores compared to the aerobic group, the most intense tai chi programme (twice per week for 24 weeks) was clinically significant. This indicates that Tai chi may be an important and effective tool in the management of Fibromyalgia, and may be a better recommendation for initial non-pharmacological management of patients with fibromyalgia than aerobic exercise.
Wang, C. et al. (2018) Effect of tai chi versus aerobic exercise for fibromyalgia: comparative effectiveness randomized controlled trial. BMJ 2018; 360 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k851
Chenchen Wang et al. (2015). A novel comparative effectiveness study of Tai Chi versus aerobic exercise for fibromyalgia: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials 2015 16:34 https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-015-0548-x