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  • Writer's picturePatrick Foley

Qigong Exercise & Arthritis

National Library of Medicine - Ray Marks - Sept 27 2017

Background: Arthritis is a chronic condition resulting in considerable disability, particularly in later life.

Aims: The first aim of this review was to summarize and synthesize the research base concerning the use of Qigong exercises as a possible adjunctive strategy for promoting well-being among adults with arthritis. A second was to provide related intervention directives for health professionals working or who are likely to work with this population in the future.

Methods: Material specifically focusing on examining the nature of Qigong for minimizing arthritis disability, pain and dependence and for improving life quality was sought. Results: Collectively, despite almost no attention to this topic, available data reveal that while more research is indicated, Qigong exercises—practiced widely in China for many centuries as an exercise form, mind-body and relaxation technique—may be very useful as an intervention strategy for adults with different forms of painful disabling arthritis. Conclusion: Health professionals working with people who have chronic arthritis can safely recommend these exercises to most adults with this condition with the expectation they will heighten the life quality of the individual, while reducing pain and depression in adults with this condition.

Conclusions: Although the literature is limited in depth and its validity can be questioned, in light of the magnitude of the immense public health burden associated with arthritis and the likelihood of this increasing—rather than decreasing as society ages—and the finding of no short-term detrimental effects post-Qigong participation on arthritis disease activity, the potential for Qigong to enhance the well-being of these sufferers should be explored further. To this end, well-designed studies of separate forms of arthritis, and methods of applying Qigong will be helpful. Studies that examine the interesting mechanisms underlying the observed benefits of Qigong, for example the possible influence the modality might have on the nature of the participant’s electromagnetic energy and nerve transmission processes, may also be highly revealing. What forms of Qigong yield optimal results, and whether Qigong exercises can stimulate bone growth and connective tissue repair among people with arthritis, would also be of great interest to examine, as would its impact on the immune system, falls risk, and cognitive function.

In the meantime, arthritis remains the most prevalent chronic disease disabler, and to assist people with one or more of these debilitating conditions to acquire a better life quality, notwithstanding the limited quality of the prevailing scientific basis for this, it appears clinicians should not overlook the potential wide-reaching physical and psychological benefits of Qigong for people with arthritis. Indeed, Qigong participation would be expected to provide a fair percentage of arthritis cases significant relief from the painful symptoms of arthritis without the damaging side effects of many other forms of intervention, and may be reasonably commensurate in impact with more standard approaches as suggested by Blodt et al. and Holmberg et al. The fact that the movements involved aim to protect internal organs from harm, and are performed more slowly than more Westernized exercises, and involve thinking and concentration, rather than mindlessness, may however provide a unique complimentary approach to reducing both fatigue and pain, as well as depression and anxiety.

They may also help participants to deal more effectively with mental as well as physical stressors without the use of dangerous drugs, and permit arthritis patients to be active rather than passive partners in their recovery. As well, Qigong appears to foster better postural control, flexibility and balance that may help to prevent falls that can lead to further disability and disablement. Qigong participants also appear to have better sleep quality, immune system functioning, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure ratings.

Taken as a whole, and notwithstanding the need for more definitive research in this realm, it does seem clinicians can still be encouraged to explore how Qigong might be helpful for their clients with arthritis, as based on the available data, along with the attributes of arthritis and the immense need for alternative approaches to fostering a high life-quality for this large group of patients. In particular, as suggested by findings of Chang et al., they can possibly help their clients to locate professional or expert Qigong instructors, and sites in the community where they can undergo assessments, training and follow-up with the expectation they will possibly benefit in one more arthritis-associated realms. Specifically targeted for the practice of Qigong might be arthritis patients with comorbid diseases such as heart disease and/or diabetes, those who are overweight, those who have intractable pain, those with sleep challenges, those who cannot take medication, those at risk for falling, those at risk of poor adherence to regular exercise, and those who are depressed or anxious. These arthritis sub-groups groups may all be especially benefited, even if the exercises are only carried out for short periods, and the benefits are only perceived as benefits by the participants, such as increased ‘vitality’ and ‘life quality’.

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