When something hurts, don’t ignore it. This is your body’s way of getting your attention! It works so hard every day, so why not give it the gift of self-care? However, pain management doesn’t have to end at bottles and pills. Try tai chi, a natural way of healing.
What Is Tai Chi?
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese mind and body practice. While it’s been around for centuries, the Western world is just catching on. Think of it as a cross between exercise and meditation. Slow body movements are topped off with controlled breathing and focus, a bit like yoga.1 Often, tai chi is called “meditation in motion” or “slow martial arts.”
The practice focuses on the qi, pronounced “chee.” This is the central life energy that flows through the body. Tai chi unblocks qi and helps it move freely, a must for good health.2
How Does Tai Chi Help Relieve Pain?
This traditional exercise is known to improve balance, flexibility, muscle strength, and stress.3 But when it comes to pain, tai chi will save the day.
Arthritis is the top cause of disability, affecting more than 50 million American adults.4 If you’re one of those people, consider tai chi.
In a 2009 study in Arthritis Care & Research, tai chi relieved pain in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Depression and the quality of life improved, too.5 A separate 2008 study found similar benefits for rheumatoid arthritis, showing how well tai chi can help joint pain.6
Fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue, affects about 5 million American adults. Roughly 90% of those people are women! Fibromyalgia often coexists with other chronic pain diseases, stressing the importance of management.7
In a 2010 study in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers assigned 66 fibromyalgia patients to one of two groups: general stretching and tai chi. Each session was one hour long, held twice a week for 12 weeks. The outcome? Tai chi patients felt less pain and depression. Additionally, their sleep quality also improved. These effects stuck around even 24 weeks later.8
3. Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain plagues most of the country – 80% of us, in fact. Common reasons include weight gain, carrying heavy loads, and standing or sitting all day at work. The pain might also be “leftover” from minor injuries.9
With tai chi, chronic pain will be a thing of the past. The movements improve lower body strength and flexibility, two essentials of low back pain relief.10 This, in turn, gives your back a break by reducing the load on the lumbar spine.11
4. Neck Pain
Chronic neck pain is another nationwide problem, affecting 50% of Americans. Stretching and yoga have been shown to help, but with tai chi, the effects are even better.
For example, a 2016 study in The Journal Of Pain put it to test. Participants with chronic neck pain – or neck pain for 3 months straight – did tai chi once a week for 12 weeks. Pain relief was felt 7 weeks in. The effects were so good that they took 20% fewer painkillers than usual!12
5. Tension Headaches
If you’re one of the 45 million Americans who suffer from chronic headaches, tai chi might be the answer. It’s been proven to help tension-type headaches, the most common kind.
Traditionally, OTC painkillers are used, but they have downfalls. Tylenol can harm the liver, while NSAIDs can cause stomach trouble. Plus, relief is only temporary and it doesn’t even take care of stress.
As for tai chi? It’ll lessen pain and stress, which is thought to induce muscle contractions that cause headaches. Because tai chi is so gentle, it’s appropriate for any age. Work with a tai chi instructor to learn the best modifications. In time, pain and pills will be a thing of the past.
|↑1, ↑3||Tai Chi. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑2||Tai Chi. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑4||Arthritis Facts. Arthritis Foundation.|
|↑5||Wang, Chenchen, Christopher H. Schmid, Patricia L. Hibberd, Robert Kalish, Ronenn Roubenoff, Ramel Rones, and Timothy McAlindon. “Tai Chi is effective in treating knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial.” Arthritis Care & Research 61, no. 11 (2009): 1545-1553.|
|↑6||Wang, Chenchen. “Tai Chi improves pain and functional status in adults with rheumatoid arthritis: results of a pilot single-blinded randomized controlled trial.” In Tai Chi Chuan, vol. 52, pp. 218-229. Karger Publishers, 2008.|
|↑7||Fibromyalgia. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.|
|↑8||Wang, Chenchen, Christopher H. Schmid, Ramel Rones, Robert Kalish, Janeth Yinh, Don L. Goldenberg, Yoojin Lee, and Timothy McAlindon. “A randomized trial of tai chi for fibromyalgia.” New England Journal of Medicine 363, no. 8 (2010): 743-754.|
|↑9||Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.|
|↑10||Hall, Amanda M., Chris G. Maher, Jane Latimer, Manuela L. Ferreira, and Paul Lam. “A randomized controlled trial of tai chi for long-term low back pain (TAI CHI): study rationale, design, and methods.” BMC musculoskeletal disorders 10, no. 1 (2009): 55.|
|↑11||Hall, Amanda M., Chris G. Maher, Paul Lam, Manuela Ferreira, and Jane Latimer. “Tai chi exercise for treatment of pain and disability in people with persistent low back pain: a randomized controlled trial.” Arthritis care & research 63, no. 11 (2011): 1576-1583.|
|↑12||Lauche, Romy, Christoph Stumpe, Johannes Fehr, Holger Cramer, Ying Wu Cheng, Peter M. Wayne, Thomas Rampp, Jost Langhorst, and Gustav Dobos. “The Effects of Tai Chi and Neck Exercises in the Treatment of Chronic Nonspecific Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” The Journal of Pain 17, no. 9 (2016): 1013-1027.|