Chronic Pain in the Elderly and Qi Gong
A single application of Qi therapy reduces chronic pain in elderly people, according to a study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2003;11:159–64).
In traditional Eastern medicines, disease is caused by disruptions and imbalances in the movement and patterns of the body’s dynamic life energy—or Qi. Stress in a person’s life is believed to disrupt Qi movement and cause symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. One goal of traditional Eastern practices, such as acupuncture and Qigong, is to restore Qi balance and movement in the body.
In Qigong exercise, specific sequences of small and large movements are made with the intention of focusing the mind in order to move the body’s Qi. Qi therapy is a technique performed by Qigong masters in which they send their Qi outward in order to bring about healing in others. A Qi therapist moves his or her hands in specific patterns at two to four inches above the patient’s body, transferring Qi to the patient through points on the meridians—the channels in the body through which Qi moves. Studies have found that these therapies can strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and might reduce anxiety and depression. One controlled trial found that combining the two therapies relieved chronic pain better than a fake treatment. Another found that Qi therapy put elderly people with chronic pain in better moods and helped them feel less pain than standard care.
The current study compared Qi therapy with non-treatment (placebo) in older adults. The study looked at 94 people over 60 years old who experienced joint pain, back pain, muscle pain, or nerve pain at least once a day that had not engaged in any mind–body medicine such as massage, meditation, or yoga for at least six months. They were randomly assigned to get either Qi therapy or placebo in one 10-minute session. Placebo took the form of random hand movements two to four inches above the person’s body without intention to transmit Qi. Questionnaires and blood pressure measurements rated participants’ depression, anxiety, pain, and fatigue before and 15 minutes after the treatment session. Both treatment and non-treatment were performed in relaxing settings, and people were encouraged to continue to rest during the 15-minute period between the end of treatment and getting blood pressure measured and answering the questionnaires.
People receiving Qi therapy had greater reductions in depression, anxiety, pain, fatigue, and blood pressure than people receiving placebo, although the only statistically significant difference was in anxiety.
The results of this study suggest that Qi therapy might be more helpful than simple relaxation for reducing anxiety and other symptoms in elderly people with chronic pain. Future studies are needed to determine the benefits of multiple sessions and whether or not the effects last. It would also be useful for future research to compare the effects of Qigong exercises with receiving Qi therapy for specific conditions, including chronic pain. Qigong exercises can be learned with the help of an experienced practitioner, and Qi therapy should only be performed by people who have mastered the practice of Qigong.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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