According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), these techniques offer various wellness benefits, including reducing chronic pain.
How It Works
Generally, qigong, used modernly, is performed for a specific situation, such as to open up the chest and lungs.
Some examples of qigong movements include:
- Raising and lowering the arms
- Rubbing the ears, feet, and hands
- Moving your head from side to side
There are different styles of tai chi, known as schools with various teacher lineages, with 108 movements in all for long forms, and there are fewer in shorter forms.
Tai chi is sometimes referred to as “moving meditation” and is considered more of a full-body approach than traditional qigong.
Others posit that tai chi may affect the autonomic nervous system, increasing parasympathetic tone — parasympathetic tone relates to a relaxed state of body, with a reduction in stress hormones.
Qigong and tai chi may be particularly attractive as a primary or complementary exercise options for people with chronic pain because they are low-impact and simple to perform.
Chronic Pain Symptom Relief
- Functional Problems and Pain In a research review, 97 percent of the 886 studies examined showed favorable results from practicing qigong. Several positive outcomes were reported, with improvements in physical function and pain being among the benefits described.
- Fibromyalgia Musculoskeletal Pain When researchers followed 226 people with fibromyalgia (a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain) for one year, they found that after 24 weeks, participants who practiced tai chi once or twice a week reported more improvement in their symptom control than those who performed aerobic exercises twice a week. And, the longer they practiced tai chi, the better the results. Authors of the study concluded, “Tai chi mind-body treatment results in similar or greater improvement in symptoms than aerobic exercise, the current most commonly prescribed nondrug treatment, for a variety of outcomes for patients with fibromyalgia.”
- Chronic Low Back Pain In a review of studies, researchers looked at whether tai chi, qigong, and yoga could improve symptoms of chronic low back pain. They found that all three practices were effective at helping pain, reporting positive results, such as reductions in pain-related disability and improved functional ability. However, the researchers noted that there were only three studies available to analyze on qigong and four on tai chi, compared with 25 involving yoga. They say more studies are needed to further investigate this association.
- Osteoarthritis Results of a small study funded by the NCCIH included 40 participants with knee osteoarthritis and found that tai chi reduced pain and improved function better than an education and stretching regimen.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain One small study published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders suggested that tai chi may improve pain and other symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
RELATED: 8 Great Pain Relievers You Aren’t Using
The effects of qigong and tai chi for pain will likely become more evident in the future as more extensive research is conducted.
General Health and Wellness Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi
In addition to helping with chronic pain relief, qigong and tai chi have been shown in studies to offer many health benefits for specific conditions and diseases.
- Weight Loss Tai chi may be a suitable weight loss option for older people with obesity. According to one study, the practice was just as effective as group workouts for slimming down and reducing belly fat in people 50 and older.
- Fall Prevention Several studies have found that tai chi may help prevent falls in older adults or people with Parkinson’s disease.
- Quality of Life, Symptom Improvements in People With Certain Conditions Tai chi and qigong may also improve symptoms or quality of life for people with the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Chronic fatigue
- Cognitive function
- Heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Increased muscle strength
- Improved cardiovascular and respiratory fitness
- Better mood and concentration
- More energy
- Better sleep
- Improved balance and stability
How to Use It
Additionally, a qualified instructor can help you learn how to execute the moves safely, which may be especially important if you have chronic pain.
The Tai Chi for Health Institute provides a directory to help you search for their registered tai chi instructors in your area.
What to Expect
Qigong and tai chi classes typically take place in a quiet and calm environment. You’ll learn the moves at your own pace.
If you struggle with the moves, try to be patient with yourself. Never perform any movements that are painful or worsen your pain.
You can practice tai chi as often as you like.
According to Mayo Clinic, you’ll see the greatest benefits if you take classes regularly and continually (for longer than 12 weeks).
Fees: Is Qigong Expensive, and Will Health Insurance Cover it?
The cost of a qigong or tai chi class might depend on where you take it, who the instructor is, how often you attend, and other factors.
You can save money by performing the exercises at home, but many people like the socialization aspect of group classes.
Also, health clubs or senior centers may offer group classes for free or as part of your membership.
You’ll have to check with your specific policy for details.
Certain resources may be helpful for people who are interested in learning more about the benefits of qigong and tai chi. Here are some of our top picks: