Effects of Tai Chi for Neck Pain
April 18, 2014 -
Neck pain is a frequent symptom that can lead to disability and high healthcare
costs. A large proportion of the population may experience neck pain in their
lives, especially the middle-aged population. In a survey in the UK, 25% of
female and 20% of male adults have reported neck pain. Manual manipulation, mobilization, and exercise have been used as
single treatments to alleviate neck pain. Exercise seems to reduce neck pain and
improve neck function over the long term.
Is Tai Chi effective for neck
pain? A researcher from the Third Hospital of Hebei Medical University in China
conducted a comprehensive review of potential scientific evidences for the
benefits that Tai Chi may have for neck pain. This study
is published by Journal of the Formosan
Medical Association in April, 2014.
It is believed that Tai Chi can improve the mental and physical health of practitioners, including
balance control, flexibility, and aerobic capacity, and alleviate headache and
psychological ailments such as depressive symptoms and anxiety. Furthermore, Tai Chi can improve muscular strength,
reduce the risk of falls in the elderly, and alleviate symptoms associated with
rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. A recent study has indicated that Tai Chi may be an effective treatment
for fibromyalgia. On the basis of these findings, it
is reasonable to assume that Tai Chi can help patients with neck pain. However,
no studies have been performed yet to examine the effect of Tai Chi exercise on
neck pain patients.
Previous studies revealed that strenuous physical activity may cause immunosuppression associated with an
increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections. In
contrast, other studies demonstrated that moderate exercise improved T cell
function and decreased respiratory infections. On the basis of these results, we
may speculate whether the beneficial effects of exercise depend on exercise
volume. Because Tai Chi requires no more than 55% maximal oxygen intake, it is
classified as moderate exercise.
Tai chi combines slow and gentle movements with deep breathing and relaxation. It is regarded as a
multicomponent intervention that integrates psychosocial, spiritual, and
behavioral elements. Because of its mind-body attributes, Tai Chi may be
especially suitable for treatment of neck pain. In fact, individuals with
musculoskeletal and mental health conditions prefer to practice Tai Chi than
other types of exercise in the USA. Tai chi also has potential therapeutic
benefits in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Furthermore, it has been reported that Tai Chi is
effective in alleviating pain, improving physical function, and promoting the
quality of life of individuals with chronic conditions.
Besides of pain and impaired function, people with neck pain also suffer from psychological distress.
Mind-body interventions may improve psychosocial well-being, increase
confidence, and help patients overcome the fear of pain. In addition, controlled
breathing and movements promote a restful state and mental tranquility, which
may raise pain thresholds and help break the pain cycle. Indeed, it has been
reported that Tai Chi can improve mood and sleep patterns. In this respect, Tai Chi might ease
the psychological distress of patients with neck pain.
To sum up, Tai Chi might not only reduce pain and promote the physical ability
of patients, but also might alleviate the depression or fear caused by such
pain. In addition, several clinical trials have supported the effects of Tai Chi
in improving pain in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis among other
conditions. Interventional research is needed to study the effects of Tai Chi on
neck pain and to address the dosing issue.