This is a continuation of my Integrative Pain Management series, based on content selected from my chapter of the book Integrative Pain Management: Massage, Movement, and Mindfulness Based Approaches.
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Chronic pain is not something that one can simply choose to stop having. It can be debilitating, in the mind and in the body, to deal with every day. This means that people suffering with chronic pain do not have much energy to expend on getting better. They need treatment that gives results. They need to know that the therapy they are about to try is not a waste of their most precious resources: time and strength.
So when it comes to mind-body therapies like tai chi, what are the measurable benefits? What can people expect to experience when they practice tai chi regularly?
Well first of all, practitioners of tai chi can expect all the benefits that have been linked with regular physical exercise. Tai Chi is, after all, a form of physical exercise. Best of all, it is a low impact form of exercise, which minimizes your risk of injury or inflammation, while also maintaining all of the plus-sides to an exercise routine. As I like to say: No Pain, LOTS of Gain.
What are these plus-sides I mentioned? Lower risk of heart-attack and stroke, increases in muscle strength, better coordination and balance, the list goes on and on. A simple Google search will yield many thousands of research papers written about the benefits of exercise on health.
On the other hand, tai chi is also a form of meditation, a technique which modern scientific study has begun to examine for its health benefits. Chief among these benefits are a positive immune response, and a reduction in stress levels.
Last but not least, tai chi itself has been the subject of several recent studies (which I helped create!) that found it effective for the treatment of pain related to rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. Scientific studies are slow and expensive, however, and in my years of experience, I have seen tai chi effectively help people who have chronic pain from all kinds of conditions, not just those three.
But remember: a mind-body program is only half of the battle. You need that program to be designed for you as a mind-body prescription by a qualified expert. You wouldn't take pain medication made by someone who doesn't know how it works, and you shouldn't fight pain with a routine made by someone who doesn't know how integrative therapy works.
Next week, we will conclude our series on Integrative Pain Management by reviewing the Core Principles of practicing tai chi, which you can apply to your routine to get the most pain relief out of it. Until next time...