Qigong for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Evidence is growing for the Traditional Chinese practice of qigong as a treatment for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Qigong (also spelled "qi gong" or "chi kung") is pronounced "chee gung." Like acupuncture, qigong has to do with the movement of energy through the body. This energy, called qi or chi, is believed to impact health.

Qigong being practiced by a lone woman in a wooded area
microgen / Getty Images

Qigong has several forms. In the west, the best-known form is Tai chi. It, like other forms of what's called internal qigong, combines breathing exercises with meditation and movement. Another form, called external qigong involves energy work by a trained practitioner. It's somewhat similar to Reiki.

Qigong for Fibromyalgia

In 2013, researchers conducted an analysis of all the research to date on internal qigong for fibromyalgia to see what conclusions they could draw.

Most of the studies, they concluded, weren't of sufficient quality to include in the analysis. Out of 117 on the topic, they considered only 7. (This demonstrates how difficult it can be to find quality research on alternative-health topics.)

Those seven articles contained what researchers called "low-quality evidence" for the short-term improvement of:

  • Pain
  • Quality of life
  • Sleep quality

They found less evidence for the improvement of fatigue.

They also didn't find any evidence that qigong was superior to other kinds of treatments. However, no serious side effects were reported, either.

They concluded that qigong may be useful for fibromyalgia but gave only a weak recommendation.

A study came out in July 2014 in which participants with fibromyalgia were instructed in qigong and practiced it for 45 minutes a day for 8 weeks then were invited to continue until the 6-month mark.

People who saw a benefit in the first eight weeks were more likely to stick with it, and many reported a beneficial effect for the duration of the study.

Let's look at the numbers:

  • The trial started with 73 people.
  • Of those, 20 continued past the 8-week point.
  • Of those 20, 7 withdrew before reaching the 6-month point.

So, about two-thirds of the people who intended to practice qigong for 6 months actually reached the goal. For a fibromyalgia treatment, that's not a bad result. However, it's important to note that only 27 percent of the original group chose to continue for the longer duration.

Both this study and the 2013 analysis state that we need more research to know for certain what potential benefits qigong may have for fibromyalgia, especially in the long term. We also need to know more about which specific practices are beneficial, and in what amounts.

It's encouraging that the analysis found no significant side effects. However, as most people with fibromyalgia know, exertion itself can lead to symptom flares. That can make regular exercise different and even cause us to avoid it for fear of making ourselves worse.

If you decide to try qigong, make sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider and to start slowly so you can minimize the risk of an exercise-induced flare.

Qigong for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Several studies have suggested positive results with qigong as a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

In a 2009 study, researchers reported significant changes in multiple symptoms, including:

  • Sleep
  • Vitality
  • Social activity
  • Psychological well-being
  • Pain
  • General mobility

However, this study didn't include a control group, so the researchers couldn't discount the possibility of a placebo effect.

A 2011 review of complementary and alternative medicine for ME/CFS found studies demonstrating that qigong had a positive effect but wasn't able to draw firm conclusions because of the limited number of quality studies.

In 2012, a randomized, controlled trial (RCT) including 64 participants with either chronic fatigue (the symptom) or ME/CFS, researchers said the qigong group had less fatigue and better mental function than the control group. They concluded that it may be effective as a complementary therapy (meaning in addition to other treatments) or as part of a rehabilitation program.

A 17-week RCT in 2013 looked at fatigue, anxiety, and depression in ME/CFS. Researchers say the qigong group showed significant improvement in:

Mental fatigue showed a lesser improvement. Anxiety scores, however, were not significantly improved.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.