Qi Gong Treatment for Fibromyalgia

Qi Gong involves breathing and stretching in a very gentle way.  It can be very helpful for people with Fibromyalgia as a complementary treatment that relieves joint and muscle pain and increases flexibility.

Qigong (pronounced ‘chee gung’) translated from the Chinese, literally means 'working with energy'. Qigong is an ancient Chinese discipline that uses breathing, meditation, visualisation, and repetitive physical exercises to cleanse and strengthen the body.  The medical applications of Qi Gong are only one branch of its development, but the combination of focused intention, slow gentle movements and awareness of breath and breathing patterns can have a powerful impact for people with Fibromyalgia.  Tai Chi is one form of Qi Gong.

A number of studies over the years have looked at the impact of Qi Gong on Fibromyalgia and the results are a little mixed (for example, a study looking specifically at pain reduction found very little impact), but studies looking at its impact on emotional states and on psychological well-being have been very positive while others have also shown promising results.  The practice of Qi Gong is pleasant and relaxing, which alone can be important for people with Fibromyalgia.  It also creates flexibility and reduces joint and muscle pain and stiffness.  One can practice Qi Gong either with a group or an instructor or individually and many people report significant anecdotal benefits from the regular practice of Qi Gong.

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Frequently Asked Question about Qi Gong

Who can do Qi Gong?

Because Qi Gong includes both dynamic and gentle techniques that can be practiced from standing, seated, or supine postures, it is suitable for young and old. Practices can be tailored to individual needs making it an ideal aid to recovery from illness or injury. 

History of Qi Gong

The documented history of qigong goes back some 2,500 years. Chinese archaeologists and historians have found references to qigong-like techniques that are at least five thousand years old.  Historically a variety of names were used for these types of exercises (from  xing-qi (promoting the circulation of qi), to fu-qi (taking qi) to zuo-chan (sitting in meditation) to yang-shen (nourishing the spirit) and more).  In 1953, the name Qi Gong was formally adopted after the publication of a paper called "Practice On Qigong Therapy" by Liu Gui-zheng.

Qi Gong comes from the field of traditional Chinese Medicine.

In Chinese medicinal history, many of the famous Chinese medicine physicians were also qi-gong masters. Hua Tuo (141-208 AD) devised movements that were similar to the movements of five different animals: the tiger, deer, bear, monkey and bird. These five animal movements had profound influence on the development of dynamic qi-gong practices. Li Shizhen (1518-1593 AD), a renowned physician and pharmacologist (1368 - 1644 AD), stated in his book, Qi Jing Ba Mai Kao (A Study on the Eight Extra Channels), that "The internal conditions and the channels can only be perceived by those who can see things by inward vision." This famous thesis described the relationship between qi-gong and the meridians. Traditional Chinese Medicine physicians have contributed to Qi Gong's development over the centuries to codify it and make it more widely accessible.

It was not until the opening of China in 1972 and the subsequent exchanges between China and the West that Western society became aware of QiGgong. The American public’s first exposure to qigong was in the PBS series Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers in 1993. In the documentary, Moyers provided an in-depth look at alternatives to Western medicine and introduced the audience to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and Qi Gong. 

Theory behind Fibromyalgia Treatment using Qi Gong

When you are in a stressful state, your sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) is very sensitive. Your breathing is more shallow and rapid, your heartbeat is quicker, your digestion and elimination are not as effective and your muscles are tense.

Qi Gong activates the parasympathetic nervous system (or the relaxation response).  It helps your breathing and heart beat to slow down and become more regular.  Your muscles relax.  This combination can then help your digestive system to function more effectively.  In addition, the meditative aspect of Qi Gong can help you to relax and reduces the anxiety and stress that can trigger physical symptoms of pain.

The breathing that is part of Qi Gong massages your internal organs, encourages deep relaxation, detoxifies your body and strengthens your immune system.  In addition, the images used in Qi Gong create a physiological slowing down of the brainwaves to alpha and theta states, and as you focus on different parts of your body, the blood flow increases to that part of the body, which allows those cells to receive more oxygen and nutrients.

The imagery used in Qigong has massive benefits. Physiologically these images lead to the slowing of brainwaves to alpha and theta, very deep states of consciousness. Practitioners say that Qi Gong can actually increase the positive energy flow to the liver, heart, spleen,lLungs, and kidneys, which they call the sources of energy and life.

Research of Fibromyalgia Treatment using Qi Gong

Numerous research studies have look at Qi Gong as a treatment for fibromyalgia.  The results have been a little mixed, with some studies that looked at the impact on pain reduction finding no benefits, but other studies looking at the impact on a variety of symptoms and particularly the impact on psychological health and distress have found very positive results.

Benefit of Qigong exercise in patients with fibromyalgia, a pilot study (2012)

Summary: This study was done because of some past inconsistencies in the results shown by studies related to Qi Gong exercise for people with Fibromyalgia. Fourteen people were assigned to either a group that did a six-week Qi Gong exercise program or a control group that did sham Qi Gong exercises. The scores on four of the measurement tools were significantly reduced in the group receiving Qi Gong, but not tin the control group. This study concludes that "Qigong exercise may potentially be an effective self-management approach in controlling Fibromyalgia symptoms. In this pilot study, regular daily Qigong exercise, accumulated number of exercise sessions, and the specific form of Qigong exercise may all be important factors for the significant improvement in the study subjects."

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22784212

The effect of Qigong on fibromyalgia (FMS): a controlled randomized study (2008)

Summary: This study was done as a controlled randomized study with fifty seven women with Fibromyalgia who were either assigned to an intervention group or a control group. During the study, significant improvements were found for the intervention group regarding different aspects of pain and psychological health and distress. The study concludes that "The overall results show that Qigong has positive and reliable effects regarding Fibromyalgia. A high degree of completion, 93%, and contentment with the intervention further support the potential of the treatment. The results of the study are encouraging and suggest that Qigong intervention could be a useful complement to medical treatment for subjects with Fibromyalgia."

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17852292

A pilot study of external qigong therapy for patients with fibromyalgia (2006)

Summary: This study was done to evaluate Qi Gong therapy for treating chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia as a pilot study with 10 women who had sever Fibromyalgia. Results were measured based on tender point count and the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire. Secondary evaluation tools were the McGill Pain Questionnaire (MPQ), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), anxiety, and self-efficacy. The participants showed improvement in pain, functioning and other symptoms. Results three months later showed some slight rebound, but the measures were still much better than before the study began. The researchers concluded that "Treatment with external Qi Gong Therapy resulting in complete recovery for some FMS patients suggests that TCM may be very effective for treating pain and the multiplicity of symptoms associated with Fibromyalgia."

source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17109575

Efficacy and feasibility of a combination of body awareness therapy and qigong in patients with fibromyalgia: a pilot study (2004)

Summary: This was a controlled randomized pilot study with 36 women with Fibromyalgia who were either giving training in Qi Gong plus body awareness therapy once week over three months, or no treatment. The results showed significant improvment in movement harmony for the treatment group but no differences in the Fibromyalgia Impact questionnaire or the functional tests. The study concludes that "Although improvement in movement harmony occurred in the patients completing the treatment programme, no improvement was found for fibromyalgia symptoms or physical function."

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15841606

Stories of Fibromyalgia Treatment using Qi Gong

There are many people curious about Qi Gong, and often some hesitation because of the perceived challenges of any type of exercise program for people with Fibromyalgia.  Qi Gong is actually very close to a meditation and breathing practice - much more so than exercise.  It can be done standing, seated or lying down.  Those who have tried it tend to me enthusiastic - for some the benefits are physical, for others they are more mental or emotional.  An added benefit it that Qi Gong can be done independently with a tape or CD and at any time of day or almost anywhere (one person mentioned that she surreptitiously does the moves at work) and for any period of time.  It is a very gentle complementary practice.

"Qi Gong involves a lot of breathing and stretching.  I use a tape that incorporates Qi Gong and Yoga on a regular basis and it has been really helpful for joint and muscle problems."  - Laura Webb

"I've discovered on my own that Qigong is very helpful...it involves very gentle stretching, meditation and helps with sore muscles and improves mood greatly. This is something I really enjoy and I do it to a DVD so it's nice and easy."

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