New research performed in Canada suggests that the routine practice of qigong, a form of meditative movement, can help lessen the pain of fibromyalgia and make a significant difference in the impact the disorder has on patients’ lives. Investigators at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia enrolled 100 people, mostly women (average age 52) with longstanding fibromyalgia and assigned half of them to a treatment group and half to a waiting list. Those in the treatment group participated in a three-day workshop to learn seven specific movements and exercises that are said to emphasize relaxation, release and distribution of “qi” (energy) throughout the body. The researchers reported that after only eight weeks of practice the patients’ pain, as measured on a 10-point scale, had dropped by 1.55 points while those in on the waiting list reported only a 0.02 decline. When participants responded to the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (a 100-point measurement of the effects of pain, function, sleep and psychological distress), negative symptoms had declined by 18.45 points among participants in the treatment group, but only by 0.93 points among those in the control group. After six months, the women on the waiting list received the same training. Over time, the more qigong the women practiced on a weekly basis, the better (lower) they scored on measurements of the impact of fibromyalgia on their lives.
My take? Fibromyalgia is a frustrating disorder for both patients and physicians. Using qigong to ease pain and reduce other symptoms makes sense to me. I’ve long recommended that the best way to deal with this condition is with 30 minutes daily aerobic exercise such as swimming, walking or biking. Breathwork, meditation and yoga can help patients cope with stress, and acupuncture, physical manipulation, and massage may help relieve physical symptoms. Qigong and tai chi (the martial form of qigong), which promote flexibility, balance, and good body awareness, seem well worth trying and, as this study suggests, may lessen the negative influences that fibromyalgia has on patients’ lives.