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Study Shows T’ai Chi Effective Intervention for Tension Headache

For millions of us, that painful, tightening sensation around the head at the end of a long day’s work is sadly all too familiar. It is called tension headache, and is well known for its negative impact on mental and physical wellbeing.

According to a randomized controlled study – the gold standard for assessing the effectiveness of any therapy – practicing T’ai Chi regularly can reduce the pain we experience during a tension headache. It can also improve our energy levels and the way we interact with others, making our life significantly better.

Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles invited a group of 21 adults aged 20 to 65 suffering from tension headaches to participate in a T’ai Chi program. T’ai Chi classes lasted one hour and were held in a local park, twice a week for 15 weeks. They were aimed at teaching participants the most popular and widely practiced form of T’ai Chi: the Yang style short form.

At the end of the program, the researchers compared the T’ai Chi group with an age-matched group of adults, also suffering from tension headaches, who did not practice T’ai Chi. They found that the T’ai Chi group had significantly less pain and enjoyed a better quality of life, as a result of increased vitality, enhanced physical functioning and improved interactions with other people.

“Tension-type headaches… represent approximately 78% of all headaches… and are often the result of temporary stress, anxiety, fatigue or anger,” says Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, who led the study, published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. These findings provide evidence that people with tension headache can benefit from T’ai Chi.

Not only that. T’ai Chi also offers important advantages over pain medications. “Virtually all pharmaceutical-based interventions include some risk… of side-effects or complications, particularly over a long-term course of use” Hui says. Acetaminophen, for example, can cause liver damage. Ibuprofen has been associated with gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeding. T’ai Chi has no side effects, and should be considered as a life quality-enhancing, “viable alternative to medication.”

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