Tai Chi is a form of exercise that was originated and practised in China for thousands of years. It has gained popularity recently in the west as a form of physical therapy to relieve back pain. This exercise uses slow and gentle movements and involves deep breathing and meditation. It is low impact and relaxing.
New studies have reinforced the belief that Tai Chi is indeed effective in relieving chronic low back pain.
Research done in Australia by Chris Maher, Director of The George Institute for Global Health and professor at the University of Sydney, has shown that participants in the Tai Chi program experienced a 25 percent reduction in their pain intensity.
The objective of this randomized and controlled trial was to find out the effects of Tai Chi on the reduction of pain and disability. Although it is a known fact that exercises is one of the more effective treatments than conventional methods for back pain, the effect of Tai Chi has not been done comprehensively.
The research conducted by Chris Maher involved 160 participants whose ages range from 18 to 70. All of them have chronic low back pain for more than three months and they were not aware of how their pain originated.
About half the group participated in 40 minutes Tai Chi classes twice a week for eight weeks, and the rest took part in normal fitness and health programs. At the end of ten weeks, and on a scale of 10 points, the Tai Chi group reported their pain was reduced by 1 point and their disability levels have noticeably improved. On the other hand, the control group not only experienced an increase in pain, but also more annoyed by the pain, and their disability levels did not improve. For the Tai Chi group, this translated to an improvement of 23 percent for pain and 32 percent for disability. In percentage terms, this improvement may not be very impressive but for back pain sufferers, this is a big deal. The result means Tai Chi can actually improve people’s ability in performing physical tasks both at home and work, and in sports.
The same group of researchers completed a number of trials in 2009 that included people suffering from arthritis, and found that Tai Chi had some positive effect on pain. These researchers are now planning to do further studies to ascertain the long term effect of Tai Chi and whether it has to be practised on a continuous basis to control back pain. Trials and studies with bigger numbers of participants over a longer period are also required to confirm the results.
In addition to relieving back pain, Tai Chi improves the flow of energy in the body, resulting in better health and wellness. Other benefits include better balance and awareness, improved strength, coordination, flexibility, calmness and quality sleep. Tai Chi is non-invasive, free (after you have learned the techniques), soft and gentle on your spine. Best of all, unlike Pilates and gym workouts, it does not require any costly equipment and can be practiced anywhere.