Compared with aerobic exercise, the more frequently recommended nondrug treatment for fibromyalgia, tai chi mind-body treatment is similarly or more effective in therapeutically improving fibromyalgia symptoms, according to a study published in the BMJ.

Chenchen Wang, MD, of the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine and Division of Rheumatology, at Tufts Medical Center, Tufts University, in Boston, and associates conducted a randomized, single-blind, comparative effectiveness trial for 52 weeks to understand the efficacy of tai chi compared with aerobics in patients with fibromyalgia.

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The investigators invited 226 adults with fibromyalgia to be randomly grouped in a tai chi cohort (1 of 4 groups; n=151) or an aerobic exercise cohort (n=75). Yang style tai chi courses were either once or twice a week for either 12 or 24 weeks. Aerobics courses were twice a week for 24 weeks. All volunteers were monitored for 52 weeks.

Fibromyalgia impact questionnaire (FIQR) scores at 24 weeks were compared with initial scores (primary outcome), and modifications in scores including global assessment, anxiety, depression, self-efficacy, coping strategies, physical functional performance, functional limitation, sleep, and health-related quality of life were assessed per patient (secondary outcome).

All groups improved but combined tai chi participants had statistically significant improvements at 24 weeks (5.5 points between groups) for secondary outcomes including global assessment (0.9 points), anxiety (1.2 points), self-efficacy (1.0 points), and coping strategies (2.6 points).

Tai chi conducted twice weekly for 24 weeks improved patient symptoms more than aerobic exercise for the same duration and intensity (16.2 points difference). In addition, 24 weeks of tai chi better improved patient symptoms than 12 weeks (9.6 point difference), though no significant results were found between once and twice weekly tai chi.

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“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,” the authors wrote.

“Longer duration of tai chi showed greater improvement,” continued the researchers. “This mind-body approach may be considered a therapeutic option in the multidisciplinary management of fibromyalgia.”


Wang C, Schmid CH, Fielding RA, et al. Effect of tai chi versus aerobic exercise for fibromyalgia: comparative effectiveness randomized controlled trial. BMJ. 2018;360:k851