Ancient Chinese Exercise May Help Reduce Chronic Pain

Tai Chi is a low-impact mind-body exercise with many health benefits, including the relief of chronic neck pain and improved quality of life.

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Also called tai chi chuan, Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that is also practiced as a graceful form of exercise. It is a noncompetitive, self paced series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing.

Tai chi is also low impact – so putting minimal stress on muscles and joints – and requires no special equipment. This makes the exercise generally safe for all ages and fitness levels.

Recent research has found that tai chi is not only a good exercise and a good stress-reducer, but it is also very effective in the relief of persistent neck pain.

Peter M Wayne PhD, founder of the Tree of Life Tai Chi Center and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, studied over one-hundred subjects enrolled in a trial that lasted for 12 weeks. He found that the practice was more effective than no treatment to improve pain, disability, quality of life and postural control in persons with chronic neck pain.

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He notes that tai chi has also been shown in past studies to help those with back and joint pain, rheumatologic disease and psychological disorders.

Other benefits of tai chi may include:
• Decreased stress, anxiety and depression
• Improved aerobic capacity
• Increased energy and stamina
• Improved flexibility, balance and agility
• Improved muscle strength and definition
• Enhance quality of sleep
• Enhance the immune system
• Help lower blood pressure
• Improve symptoms of congestive heart failure
• Improve overall well-being
• Reduce risk of falls in older adults

While you can buy a book or watch a video to learn more about the Tai Chi techniques, it may be more beneficial to learn from an experienced instructor in person. To find a class near you, contact local fitness centers, health clubs and senior centers.

Journal Reference:
Peter M. Wayne, et al. The Effects of Tai Chi and Neck Exercises in the Treatment of Chronic Nonspecific Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Pain, 2016; 17 (9): 1013 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2016.06.004

Additional Resources:
Mayo Clinic
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (National Institutes of Health)

Photo Credit:
By Facheng - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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