Qigong, sometimes spelled Chi gung, is a form of exercise that originated in China some 4,000 years ago. Literally translated to “life energy cultivation” it involves aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, healing, and meditation for the purpose of balancing the body’s energy meridians and enhancing the intrinsic capacity of the body to heal. Qigong is considered a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, along with acupuncture and Chinese herbology.
Basically, in TCM it is believed that there are “energy meridians” or lines that cover the body from head to toe. Health is dependent on the “flow” of this energy, or chi. Whenever there is an “obstruction” in one or several meridians, the body experiences disease. Qigong works to improve this energy flow by focused breathing, meditation, and gentle movements. Whether the benefits of Qigong are derived from improved energy flow, or by better breathing and exercise is uncertain.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that involves diffuse, muscular pain in multiple parts of the body. It is more of a syndrome; meaning, it is described in terms of symptoms rather than objective findings such as offered by an X-ray or MRI. Fibromyalgia is also often associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. It is a difficult musculoskeletal disorder to diagnose and treat because it usually lacks a causative event. Some believe that it may be related to a virus, or abnormal central nervous system response.
A recent study investigating the effectiveness of qigong on fibromyalgia was published August 3rd. The randomized, controlled study involved 100 fibromyalgia patients, divided into a control group and test group. Outcomes were pain, impact, sleep, physical function and mental function, and these were recorded at baseline, 8 weeks, 4 months and 6 months using standardized pain questionnaires (10 point and 100 point). The test group participated in a one-hour practice session once weekly for 8 weeks and were asked to practice the movements and exercises at home every day for six months for 45 to 60 minutes. After the first 8 weeks of practice, the investigators reported the following results:
- Based on a 10-point scale, patients in the qigong group had a 1.55 point reduction in pain compared with only 0.02 points in controls
- Based on the 100-point Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire, individuals who participated in qigong reported a decrease of 18.45 points compared with 0.93 points in controls. This questionnaire rates pain, sleep, function, and psychological distress
- Quality of sleep also improved during the 8-week treatment period based on a sleep quality index of 3.29 points
- Psychologically, patients in the 8-week treatment group showed an improvement of 5.29 points on a questionnaire
Following the initial 8-week treatment period, the patients said they practiced for a mean of 4.9 hours per week, which declined to 2.9 and 2.7 hours by months 4 and 6, respectively. However, the 52% of patients who practiced at home the most (5 hours per week) enjoyed the most benefits in a number of areas.
Individuals who participated in the delayed treatment also showed improvements similar to those in patients who took part in the immediate qigong sessions and practice in all areas. When the authors combined the results of the two groups, the results revealed sustained effect of qigong on pain at both 4 and 6 months, and benefits persisted through 6 months for impact scores, sleep, and physical and mental well-being.
Bottom line: this is one of several studies that suggest the Chinese system of qigong exercise can be helpful in reducing, or at least managing chronic pain. If you have FM and have not tried it yet, it is worth investigating.