More Evidence Tai Chi Eases Low Back Pain

A growing body of evidence suggests that Tai Chi may be effective for easing pain and improving the quality of life of those with persistent low back pain.

Despite the widespread use of Tai Chi for back pain, surprisingly few Western studies have evaluated Tai Chi for back pain.

Now the results of the first larger-scale clinical trial studying the effect of Tai Chi for persistent low back pain have just been published in the November issue of the journal Arthritis Care & Research.

An Australian team led by Dr. Amanda Hall randomly assigned 160 adults between age 18 and 70 to either 10 weeks of Tai Chi training based on a simplified form, called “Tai Chi for Back Pain” developed by Dr. Paul Lam, or to a control group.

The results showed that Tai Chi significantly improved bothersome back pain symptoms (1.7 points on a 0-10 scale), which was the study’s primary outcome.

The participants also said they experienced less pain-related disability and felt their health-related quality of life had improved.

They also said they felt better in general for having done Tai Chi.

The researchers’ conclusion: Tai Chi is safe and effective for those experiencing long-term low back pain symptoms.

In a small, unpublished pilot study, Harvard researchers Peter Wayne, PhD, and Gloria Yeh, MD, anonymously surveyed 144 Tai Chi practitioners, average age 53, two-thirds of them women, at Boston area Tai Chi schools.

More than half said they have used Tai Chi for back or neck pain, and nearly all reported Tai Chi was “helpful” or “very helpful.”

“The gentle movements of Tai Chi might help begin to gently stretch and strengthen tissues and improve local circulation in the back,” says Wayne, who is Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of Research, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Division of Preventive Medicine Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“Because Tai Chi is done slowly and mindfully, it is less likely to cause more trauma to injured regions of the back.

The reduction in what is often unconscious pain can lead to more efficient gait and posture, putting less biomechanical strain on tissues, including connective tissues.

Mindful breathing might help you sense and even massage regions of the lower back, and the meditative, stress-reducing aspects of Tai Chi might improve your anxiety, mood, and sleep pattern.”

The bottom line: If you have chronic low back pain, the many components of Tai Chi may just help relieve your pain.

2 Responses to “More Evidence Tai Chi Eases Low Back Pain”

  • avatar Eddie Chan:

    I agreed with the fact that Tai Chi can relief low back pain. I personally suffered from low back pain for more than 10 years, and I became better after practicing Tai Chi. In fact, I should say Tai Chi had cured my low back pain. The only thing I need to do is to keep practicing.

    On the other hand, I have seen people hurt their knees by moving incorrectly during Tai Chi.

    • avatar Mark:

      Hi Eddie – Yes, those are the last words my Tai Chi instructor says at the end of every class — “Keep practicing!” You’re right that you have to be careful to avoid knee problems by always keeping your knees over your toes.

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