Qigong for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Does it Work?

Qigong may be an effective treatment for fibromyalgia & ME/CFS.. microgen/Getty Images

Evidence is growing for the Traditional Chinese practice of qigong as a treatment for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Qigong (also spelled "qi gong" or "chi kung") is pronounced "chee gung." Like acupuncture, qigong has to do with the movement of energy through the body. This energy, called qi or chi, is believed to impact the health.

Qigong has several forms. In the west, the best-known form is Tai chi.

It, like other forms of what's called internal qigong, combines breathing exercises with meditation and movement. Another form, called external qigong involves energy work by a trained practitioner. It's somewhat similar to Reiki.

Qigong for Fibromyalgia

In 2013, researches conducted an analysis of all the research to date on internal qigong for fibromyalgia to see what conclusions they could draw.

Most of the studies, they concluded, weren't of sufficient quality to include in the analysis. Out of 117 on the topic, they considered only 7. (This demonstrates how difficult it can be to find quality research on alternative-health topics.)

Those 7 articles contained what researchers called "low quality evidence" for the short-term improvement of:

  • Pain,
  • Quality of life,
  • Sleep quality.

They found lesser evidence for improvement of fatigue.

They also didn't find any evidence that qigong was superior to other kinds of treatments.

However, no serious side effects were reported, either.

They concluded that qigong may be useful for fibromyalgia but gave only a weak recommendation.

A new study came out in July 2014 in which participants with fibromyalgia were instructed in qigong and practiced it for 45 a day for 8 weeks, then were invited to continue until the 6-month mark.

People who saw a benefit in the first 8 weeks were more likely to stick with it, and many reported a beneficial effect for the duration of the study.

Let's look at the numbers:

  • The trial started with 73 people.
  • Of those, 20 continued past the 8-week point.
  • Of those 20, 7 withdrew before reaching the 6-month point.

So, about two-thirds of the people who intended to practice qigong for 6 months actually reached the goal. For a fibromyalgia treatment, that's not a bad result. However, it's important to note that only 27 percent of the original group chose to continue for the longer duration.

Both this study and the 2013 analysis state that we need more research to know for certain what potential benefits qigong may have for fibromyalgia, especially in the long term. We also need to know more about which specific practices are beneficial, and in what amounts.

It's encouraging that the analysis found no significant side effects. However, as most people with fibromyalgia know, exertion itself can lead to symptom flares.

That can make regular exercise different and even cause us to avoid it for fear of making ourselves worse.

If you decide to try qigong, make sure to discuss it with your doctor and to start slowly so you can minimize the risk of an exercise-induced flare.

Qigong for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Several studies have suggested positive results with qigong as a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

In a 2009 study, researchers reported significant changes in multiple symptoms, including:

  • Sleep,
  • Vitality,
  • Social activity,
  • Psychological well-being,
  • Pain,
  • General mobility.

However, this study didn't include a control group, so the researchers couldn't discount the possibility of a placebo effect.

A 2011 review of complementary and alternative medicine for ME/CFS found studies demonstrating that qigong had a positive effect but wasn't able to draw firm conclusions because of the limited number of quality studies.

In 2012, a randomized, controlled trial (RCT) including 64 participants with either chronic fatigue (the symptom) or ME/CFS, researchers said the qigong group had less fatigue and better mental function than the control group. They concluded that it may be effective as a complementary therapy (meaning in addition to other treatments) or as part of a rehabilitation program.

A 17-week RCT in 2013 looked at fatigue, anxiety, and depression in ME/CFS. Researchers say the qigong group showed significant improvement in:

Mental fatigue showed a lesser improvement. Anxiety scores, however, were not significantly improved.

While results are promising, it's important to note that many people with ME/CFS have a symptom called post-exertional malaise, which makes them recover slowly from exercise and have symptom flares in response to over-exertion.

The decision to attempt qigong should be made between you and your doctor, and you should carefully consider your fitness level and tolerance for exertion.

More Information

You can learn more about qigong here:


Alraek T, et al. BMC complementary and alternative medicine. Complementary and alternative medicine for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic review.

Chan JS, et al. Evidence based complementary and alternative medicine. 2013;2013:485341. Effects of qigong exercise on fatigue, anxiety, and depressive symptoms of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome-like illness: a randomized controlled trial.

Craske NJ, et al. Evidence based complementary and alternative medicine. 2009 Jun;6(2):265-70. Qigong ameliorates symptoms of chronic fatigue: a pilot uncontrolled study.

Ho RT, et al. Annals of behavioral medicine. 2012 Oct;44(2):160-70. A randomized controlled trial of qigong exercise on fatigue symptoms, functioning, and telomerase activity in persons with chronic fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Lauche R, et al. Evidenc-based complementary and alternative medicine. 2013;2013:635182. A systematic review and meta-analysis of qigong for the fibromyalgia syndrome.

Sawynok J, Lynch M. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine. 2014 Jul 29. [Epub ahead of print] Qualitative analysis of a controlled trial of qigong for fibromyalgia: advancing understanding of an emerging health practice.

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