Qigong for Chronic Joint Pain

In our post on Tai Chi For Joint Health, we looked at the Tai Chi toolkit for healthy joints in the long term. The main points were:

1. Range of Motion

2. Opening and Closing

3. Energy Circulation

4. Alignment

5. Strengthening Tissue

Today, we look more into the theory and use of Qigong for joint health, and especially for the treatment of long-term joint pain caused by arthritis. All of the principles found in Tai Chi that are relevant to joint health apply equally to Qigong. Qigong, however, favours static postures and can be less demanding on joints that are already in pain.

Western medicine has only begun to study the benefits of Qigong for joint health, but a review of findings to date suggests that benefits include reduced pain, enhanced flexibility, relaxation of muscular tension where it is a contributing factor to joint pain, and improving mobility. The gentle movements characteristic of Qigong are particularly suitable for people who find more intensive forms of exercise painful.

There is no one Qigong system for joint health, but several, including baduanjin or Eight Pieces of Brocade, which is included in Rock Solid Health Qigong, have been studied in relation to arthritis. An experienced teacher can tailor elements of the system to address particular problems.

Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming, whose study of Chinese martial and healing systems is perhaps the most extensive of anyone alive, has written about the Chinese approach to healing the joints, emphasizing the need to lead healing qi into damaged joints through gentle motions and gradual practice. This can only be done with exercises that do not bring tension to the joints.

He recounts an incident that reveals the power of simple, persistent practice.

"About ten years ago, I remember when I was teaching qigong in Andover, Massachusetts. Right after my class, there was a woman who came to see me for help. She showed me her swollen hands and wrists, caused from a serious arthritis problem. After I took a look, I asked her if she was able to move her fingers and turn her wrists. She tried and showed some capability of moving them with limited flexibility. I taught her some simple theory of the importance of circulating the qi and blood in the fingers and wrists. Then, I encouraged her to do the finger and wrist exercises everyday as many times as possible. I also told her it would probably take six months to see the effectiveness of the treatment.

"Three months later, she came to see me, although I had forgotten about our first meeting and conversation. She showed me her hands, and what I saw were mildly swollen index, middle, and ring fingers. I told her she should be careful, since there was a sign of arthritis development. She stared at me with big eyes and said: "You don't member me, Dr. Yang" and she refreshed my memory of the first meeting. I could not believe it took only three months for her to have this significant progress. She told me she had stopped taking painkillers for nearly a month already.

"Whenever there was an episode of pain, she simply moved the area for a few minutes and the pain alleviated. From this experience, I had seen how she had conquered herself in making these activities part of her lifestyle."

The last part is the most important, both the use of movement as a counter to pain, and the importance of willpower and persistence for the patient.

The video below contains some basic exercises for maintaining good joint health. People with significantly limited joint mobility should not attempt them without the benefit of a teacher.

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