Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

For Exercise & Relaxation

Tai Chi may help with symptoms of fibromyalgia & ME/CFS. Dougal Waters/Getty Images

Tai Chi, or T'ai Chi Ch'uan, is also called "moving meditation." It's considered a gentle form of exercise and a way to relax your body and reduce stress.

While it's a Chinese practice that dates back to the 13th century or earlier, it's become very common in the U.S. It's widely recommended for people with health conditions that limit movement or energy.

Growing bodies of scientific evidence suggest that tai chi may be a beneficial form of exercise for people with fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS).

Reviews of medical literature point to consistently positive results; however, they also point out frequent flaws in the methodology of the studies, meaning that they can't be considered high profile. So for now, we can't say for sure whether it's safe and effective for these conditions.

Why Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is a no-impact form of exercise. It contains no strenuous movements, no jumps, no running and no aerobics. Instead, you move your body fluidly through a sequence of deliberate movements that sometimes are described as physical poetry.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), chi means life energy. TCM teaches that chi moves through your body, keeping you vital and healthy. Problems with the flow of chi are said to be linked to disease, and TCM practitioners believe that restoring its proper flow will bring about good health. Acupuncture and Tai Chi are both believed to promote the circulation of chi.

For people with FMS and ME/CFS who are able to tolerate gentle exercise, Tai Chi can be a way to get your body moving, increase your energy, and promote flexibility and strength. Not all of us can tolerate exercise, no matter how gentle. For more information on that, see:

Even though it is gentle exercise, remember to start slowly and lengthen your workouts gradually or add a second short session to your day. Instructors say that everyone can do Tai Chi, in spite of movement limitations, because there's no "right way" to do it.

Much of Tai Chi keeps your feet rooted firmly on the ground, which is especially good for people who may have balance problems associated with FMS or ME/CFS. When you're getting started, avoid movements that could make your body unstable and in risk of falling. Be sure to check with your doctor about any other things you may need to take into consideration when starting Tai Chi.

Tai Chi classes are quite common across the country. To find one, check with your local YMCA - YWCA, fitness centers, rehab facilities and hospitals. Working with an instructor or personal trainer can help you learn the forms properly and get the most benefit from them.

More on Exercise for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Sources:

Alraek T, et al. BMC complementary and alternative medicine. 2011 Oct 7;11:87. Complementary and alternative medicine for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic review.

Lauche R, et al. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine. 2015;2015:610615. A systematic overview of reviews for complementary and alternative therapies in the treatment of the fibromyalgia syndrome.

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