Qigong a Treatment for Fibromyalgia PDF Print E-mail

By Dr. Taya Stanley

Do breath and movement relaxation exercises offer something for chronic pain? It seems they do. Recent studies have indicated that Qigong has a significant therapeutic effect on pain syndromes such as Fibromyalgia. Why should we be excited about these studies?

Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is one of the most common rheumatic syndromes found in general medicine. Producing wide-spread musculoskeletal pain with multiple tender spots throughout the body, Fibromyalgia is said to occur in 3-10% of the US population. Unfortunately, the standard western medical treatments are not very effective when it comes to treating FMS. Most medications, from steroids to non-steroid anti-inflammatories and opiates are generally ineffective. While there have been some reports of limited positive results with moderate exercise and some anti-depressant medications, fewer than 50% of patients gain symptom relief from any of the standard bio-medical treatments. [1]

Two recent studies explored the effects of Internal Qigong and External Qigong on patients suffering from Fibromyalgia. “Qi” means life force energy while “Gong” means practice or skill. Often called an internal martial art, Qigong is a part of Traditional Chinese medicine and is practiced through special body movements combined with mental focus and conscious breathing. The goal of internal and external Qigong is to improve physical, emotional and mental health of the practioner or patient. In internal Qigong conscious breathing is combined with slow precise movements and specific visualization with the intention of increasing, regulating and enhancing one’s own Qi, or vital energy. In external Qigong, a Qigong practioner projects Qi, augmenting a patient’s Qi quantity and/or circulation with their own.

In a recent controlled randomized study conducted last year, fifty-seven women suffering from Fibromyalgia participated in a seven week trial conducted by the department of clinical psychology at the University of Uppsala, Sweden. The study explored the effects of Internal Qigong on FMS symptoms. Subjects were assessed pre and post trial as well as four months after completion. The authors reported significant improvement of symptoms of pain, psychological health and distress both during and after the trail. They found the majority of these results “were either maintained or improved,” four months later, concluding that “Qigong has a positive and reliable effect regarding FMS.”[2]

The department of psychiatry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in the United States conducted another interesting study on Qigong in 2006. In this pilot study the effects of external qigong were explored. Ten women with severe FMS experienced five to seven external qigong sessions over a three week period. Each session lasted 40 minutes. Again, the subjects were examined before and after the trial, with follow-up examinations three months after completion. The subjects demonstrated improvement in functioning, pain, and other symptoms, with two women completely symptom free after the trial. They concluded that Qigong “may be very effective for treating pain and the multiplicity of symptoms associated with FMS.” [3]

In view of the prevalence of this pain syndrome and the limited positive results standard bio-medical treatments have had, these studies are very exciting. As the authors of the study in New Jersey said “additional larger studies are urgently needed”. These findings hint at a promise of improved life quality for many currently suffering from fibromyalgia and quite possibly, other chronic pain syndromes as well.

[1] McPhee S; Papadakis M; 2007 Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 46th Edition: pp 839-840

[2] Haak T., Scott B. The effect of Qigong on Fibromyalgia (FMS): a controlled randomized study. Disabil Rehabil. 2007 Jun 15;:1-9 [Epub ahead of print]

[3] Chen KW, Hassett AL, Hou F, Staller J, Lichtbroun AS., A pilot study of external qigong therapy for patients with fibromyalgia. Altern Complement Med. 2006 Nov;12(9):851-6.



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