A New Study on Effectiveness of Taiji to Relieve Neck Pain

For the treatment of chronic nonspecific neck pain, an international (Germany, Australia, China, and U.S.) research team recently found that doing Taiji (another spelling is Tai Chi) is just as effective as doing neck exercise therapy, and significantly more effective than not doing anything at all.  Their finding was published in the September 2016 issue of The Journal of Pain. [1][2]  This essay provides a brief summary of their research finding.

Research Method This field test research project was conducted between September 2014 and March 2015 in the Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine in Essen, Germany.  The project divided the test group into three subgroups: (1) a Taiji Group, (2) a conventional Neck Exercise Therapy Group, and (3) a No Treatment Group.  The average age of the 114 chosen participants was 49.5, and the group consisted of 91 women and 23 men.  The participants were randomly assigned to the three groups.  Over a period of 12 weeks, Group 1 and Group 2 each met once per week for 75-90 minutes.  For each session, Group 1 started with 5-10 minutes of warm-up exercises, followed by about 45 minutes of practicing the Yang Style 13 Form (depending on how the forms are counted, it is also sometimes called the Yang Style 16 Form), and ended with 5-10 minutes of relaxation exercises.  Similarly Group 2 also started with 5-10 minutes of warm-up exercises and ended with 5-10 minutes of relaxation exercises, and sandwiched in-between about 45 minutes of neck therapy exercises similar to those taught in rehabilitation program containing exercises and education for a healthy neck.  Group 1 was also supposed to practice at home at least 15 minutes of Taiji each day.  Group 2 was also supposed to practice at home at least 15 minutes of the neck exercises each day.  Group 3 did not practice or had treatment because it was a No Treatment Group.

Research FindingThe project measured various results at the end of 12 weeks.  The primary measurement was “pain on movement” (POM) when participants were asked to flex, extend, laterally flex, and laterally rotate their necks to the left and right.  The evoked pain was measured on a 100-mm visual analogue scale (VAS) for each direction.  An average POM score was then calculated from these data for each participant.  A measurement of the physical limitation from their neck pain was the Neck Disability Index (NDI) that was a 10-item questionnaire that determines how participants see their neck pain affects their daily activities.  There was also a measurement of the health-related physical and mental quality of life using the Short Form 36 Health Survey Questionnaire.  In addition, there was also a psychological well-being measurement on stress resistance, ability to enjoy, vitality, and inner peace using the Questionnaire on the Assessment of Physical Well-being.

The results show that at the end of 12 weeks there were statistically meaningful improvements in all four measurements for the Taiji Group, and of course basically no improvements for the No Treatment Group.  Similarly, there were statistically meaningful improvements in all four measurements for the Neck Exercise Therapy Group.  No significant difference was found between the Taiji Group and the Neck Exercise Therapy Group.  This means that doing Taiji can be an alternative to doing Neck Exercise Therapy for the treatment of chronic nonspecific neck pain.  The project also did some measurements at the end of 24 weeks, even though organized treatments were carried out for only 12 weeks.  The results at 24 weeks still showed improvements of the Taiji Group and the Neck Exercise Therapy Group over the No Treatment Group.

Final CommentsThe Taiji exercises performed by the participants in this project were just a simple set of normal Taiji exercises.  They were not selected to be specific for treating neck pains.  This means that the same kinds of Taiji exercises that have been found to be useful to treat many kinds of health ailments [3] are also useful for treating neck pains.  More importantly, it shows that the basic ingredients of Taiji, its soft and slow movements coupled with breathing and relaxation techniques, can provide general health improvements that can also improve many specific ailments. [4]

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[1] The abstract of the article:  “The Effects of Tai Chi and Neck Exercises in the Treatment of Chronic Nonspecific Neck Pain:  A Randomized Controlled Trial.”

[2] For the full article, see The Journal of Pain, Vol. 17, No 9 (September), 2016; pp1013-1027.

[3] “Health Benefits of Taiji”, January 2010.  “A Comprehensive of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi”, December 2010.  “Effectiveness of Taiji Versus Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis”, September 2016.

[4] “Why Taiji Is Beneficial to Health”, September 2012.

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