Headache/MigraineTai Chi

Tai chi for tension headaches?

Tai chi is a form of traditional Chinese exercise. Unlike the hard martial arts, tai chi is characterized by soft, slow, flowing movements that emphasize force rather than brute strength.

Now, a study in 47 adults claims that tai chi can have significant positive effects in people with tension-type headache.

  • Less pain
  • Improvement in energy/fatigue
  • Social functioning
  • Mental health
  • Emotional well-being

The treatment consisted of 15 weeks of bi-weekly instruction in the yang style short form of tai chi in 24 people, while the rest received no instruction.

The bottom line?

Before these findings are accepted at face value, there are 3 potentially confounding variables that dispute the validity of the reported results.

First, the results are based on questionnaires completed by the patients. This subjective approach would tend to bias the results toward greater benefit in the tai chi group. Afterall, those doing tai chi expected to do better, while those on the wait list had no expectation of improvement.

Second, “the most significant difficulty encountered during the study was a relatively high dropout rate,” according to the reserachers. Among the 47 people who started the study, 13 (28%) decided it wasn’t worth continuing to the end of the study. The researchers state dissatisfaction with the honoraria and the time commitment to complete the questionnaire were reasons. Perhaps, but lack of response for the effort might underly these reasons.

Finally, it appears that the results are based on those who completed the study. Typically, this approach biases the results in favor of a positive response, since those satisfied are most likely to have completed the study.

11/23/06 18:23 JR. Updated 3/9/07 18:26 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.