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  • Writer's picturePatrick Foley

Qigong & Tai Chi to Help Chronic Pain

Every Day Health - Julie Lynn Marks - March 9 2022

Practicing the gentle movements of tai chi and qigong can relieve pain.

Qigong (pronounced “chee-gong”) and tai chi are ancient Chinese practices that involve meditation, controlled breathing, and movement to improve a person’s mental and physical health.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), these techniques offer various wellness benefits, including reducing chronic pain.

How It Works

Both exercises are based on the idea and core principle that increasing energy in the body, known as “qi” or “chi,” through gentle and repeated movements can enhance a person’s well-being. The goal is to restore the body’s balance of yin and yang, which are opposing and complementary forces in nature.

Qigong and tai chi share many similarities but also subtle differences. Tai chi, when performed for promoting health, is considered a form of qigong.

Qigong is typically a more simplified practice. It involves stationary exercises that can be done in any order and are usually repeated.

Generally, qigong, used modernly, is performed for a specific situation, such as to open up the chest and lungs.

Some examples of qigong movements include:

  • Raising and lowering the arms

  • Rubbing the ears, feet, and hands

  • Moving your head from side to side

Tai chi movements may include martial arts components and are performed in a specific order.

There are different styles of tai chi, known as schools with various teacher lineages, with 108 movements in all for long forms, and there are fewer in shorter forms.

Tai chi is sometimes referred to as “moving meditation” and is considered more of a full-body approach than traditional qigong.

When it comes to chronic pain relief, the exact mechanism behind qigong and tai chi isn’t fully known. Some researchers theorize that pain relief is achieved by eliminating muscular tension through deep relaxation or boosting feel-good chemicals in the body called endorphins. Others posit that tai chi may affect the autonomic nervous system, increasing parasympathetic tone — parasympathetic tone relates to a relaxed state of body, with a reduction in stress hormones.

The practices may also offer individualized benefits for specific conditions that cause chronic pain. For example, people with arthritis often experience stiff muscles, which loosen up with movement. Exercise, in general, improves the flow of blood and body fluids through muscles, joints, and tendons, which may help with pain reduction.

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