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Complementary & Alternative Medicine
Index Of Alternative Therapies And Modalities
When deciding to begin a complementary therapy or to see a complementary practitioner, first speak with your primary health care provider.
Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.
Qi Gong is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that is believed to be at least 4,000 years old. There are two types of Qi Gong: internal and external. Internal Qi Gong techniques include learned and self-directed exercises that involve sounds, movements and meditation. External Qi Gong (Qi emission) is practiced by a Qi Gongmaster who uses his or her hands with the aim to project qi (pronounced "chi") to others for the purpose of healing. More than 5,000 styles of Qi Gong have been cataloged by the Chinese government.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Qi Gong is considered beneficial for a large variety of medical conditions. Many practitioners believe there is a role for Qi Gong in treating chronic conditions such as cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and asthma. Scientific evidence suggests a possible role for internal Qi Gong in the treatment of high blood pressure; this therapy may be beneficial when used with other treatments (such as prescription drugs). There is preliminary evidence that Qi Gong may manage pain and anxiety associated with pain. Internal Qi Gong actively engages a patient in his or her own health care and can be performed in the presence or absence of a Qi Gong master.
Qi Gong is sometimes described as "a way of working with life energy." There are three main branches of Qi Gong: medical (used for healing), spiritual (for self-awareness) and martial art (for self-protection). Qi Gong is generally intended to be harmonious with the natural rhythms of time and season. It may be practiced daily with the aim of health maintenance and disease prevention. Medical Qi Gong can be an active (internal) or passive (external) noninvasive technique that involves five steps: meditating, cleansing, strengthening/recharging, circulating and dispersing qi. Specific movements, meditations and sounds are used for each step.
Scientists have studied Qi Gong for the following health problems:
High blood pressure
There is good evidence from several studies in humans suggesting that Qi Gong, when used with conventional treatments, may be of benefit for high blood pressure. Initial research reports fewer deaths among people with high blood pressure who practice Qi Gong. There is some evidence that internal Qi Gong relaxation exercises may be safe for helping to control high blood pressure associated with pregnancy. Further research is warranted.
There is early research supporting the use of internal Qi Gong exercises or externally applied Qi for pain management and reduction of anxiety associated with pain. More evidence is needed before a firm recommendation can be made.
A recent study looked at the effectiveness of Qi Gong therapy vs. medical and nonmedical treatment in the detoxification of heroin addicts. Results showed that qigong may be beneficial in heroin detoxification without side effects, although the possibility of the placebo effect cannot be completely eliminated. Other treatments have been better studied for heroin detoxification and are recommended at this time. Qi Gong may be used as an adjunct therapy.
Qi Gong has been studied in a small study of elderly patients to see if it helped depression in those with chronic physical illnesses. Study results were inconclusive, and further research is needed before a recommendation can be made. Qi Gong may be used as an adjunct to more proven therapies.
Cardiac rehabilitation programs are designed to improve heart health through activities such as monitored exercise, and they are often recommended for individuals who have heart failure or who have had a heart attack. One study suggests that Qi Gong may aid in cardiac rehabilitation in terms of improving physical activity, balance, and coordination. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.
Further evidence is needed before a recommendation can be made.
Early data suggest that the regular practice of internal Qi Gong over several months may improve breathing in asthma. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
There is unclear evidence from one case series to support the use of external Qi Gong in the treatment of arteriosclerotic obstruction as an adjunct therapy to conventional treatments. This study was methodologically weak, and no statistical analysis was reported. Future randomized controlled trials would add better understanding of this technique.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
There is unclear but promising early evidence to support the use of internal Qi Gong in the treatment of ADHD children.
Childhood growth promotion
Children are capable of receiving instruction in internal Qigong as a health promotion activity, and it may have some behavioral benefits.
Complex regional pain syndrome
Preliminary data from one small study suggest patients with complex regional pain syndrome might benefit from Qi Gong instruction.
Early data show that patients with diabetes may derive benefits from Qi Gong, but further research is needed to confirm these results.
Study results are mixed. More research is needed before a conclusion can be made.
There is unclear but promising early evidence to support the use of internal Qi Gong in the treatment of gastritis. Future randomized controlled trials might make for a more compelling case.
There is unclear but promising early evidence from one case series to support the use of internal Qi Gong in the treatment of immune deficiencies.
Leukopenia (breast cancer patients)
Based on early study, Chan-Chuang Qi Gong therapy may decrease leukopenia (low white blood cell count) in breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy. Further study is warranted in this area.
Preliminary data from one small study suggests that internal Qi Gong practice over three months may help slow the decline of health in muscular dystrophy patients.
There is unclear but promising early evidence to support the use of internal Qi Gong in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.
Receiving external Qi Gong therapy regularly may have the ability to help reduce premenstrual syndrome symptoms.
Quality of life
Qi Gong may be beneficial for improving the quality of life in cardiac and cancer patients; further study is necessary to make a firm conclusion.
Preliminary study shows that Qi Gong may be beneficial for relieving stress, although more study is warranted in this area.
Qi Gong has been suggested for many other uses, based on tradition or on scientific theories. However, these uses have not been thoroughly studied in humans, and there is limited scientific evidence about safety or effectiveness. Some of these suggested uses are for conditions that are potentially life-threatening. Consult with a health care provider before using Qi Gong for any use.
Congestive heart failure
Health and wellness
Heart attack prevention
Heart rate variability
| Improved sleep|
Improved workplace efficiency
Low back pain
Peripheral vascular disease
Qi Gong is generally believed to be to be safe in most people when practiced according to standard moderate principles and when learned under the guidance of a qualified teacher. Unguided exercises may worsen symptoms in some patients with psychiatric disorders. There is one report of an allergic skin reaction in Qi Gong trainees, although the exact cause is not clear. Qi Gong should not be used as the sole treatment for severe illnesses in place of more proven therapies. Use of Qi Gong should not delay consultation with a qualified health care provider for such conditions.
Qi Gong has been suggested for many conditions. Qi Gong may play a role in the management of chronic pain and high blood pressure as an addition to more proven standard treatments (such as prescription drugs). Qi Gong is generally believed to be safe when practiced appropriately, but it should not be used as the sole treatment for severe illnesses, and people with psychiatric disorders should only practice Qi Gong under supervision. Speak with a qualified health care provider if you are considering Qi Gong.
The information in this monograph was prepared by the professional staff at Natural Standard, based on thorough systematic review of scientific evidence. The material was reviewed by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School with final editing approved by Natural Standard.
- Natural Standard: An organization that produces scientifically based reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): A division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services dedicated to research
Selected Scientific Studies: Qi Gong
Natural Standard has reviewed all of the currently available medical literature to prepare the professional monograph from which this version was created.
Some of the more recent studies are listed below:
- Chen KW, Marbach JJ. External qigong therapy for chronic orofacial pain. J Altern Complement Med 2002;Oct, 8(5):532-534. No abstract available.
- Creamer P, Singh BB, Hochberg MC, et al. Sustained improvement produced by nonpharmacologic intervention in fibromyalgia: results of a pilot study. Arthritis Care Res 2000;13(4):198-204.
- Ismail K, Tsang HW. Qigong and suicide prevention. Br J Psychiatry 2003;Mar, 182:266-267. No abstract available.
- Kemp CA. Qigong as a therapeutic intervention with older adults. J Holist Nurs 2004;22(4):351-373.
- Kerr C. Translating "mind-in-body": two models of patient experience underlying a randomized controlled trial of qigong. Cult Med Psychiatry 2002;Dec, 26(4):419-447.
- Lee MS, Huh HJ, Jeong SM, et al. Effects of Qigong on immune cells. Am J Chin Med 2003;31(2):327-335.
- Lee MS, Huh HJ, Kim BG, et al. Effects of Qi-training on heart rate variability. Am J Chin Med 2002;30(4):463-470.
- Lee MS, Jeong SM, Kim YK, et al. Qi-training enhances respiratory burst function and adhesive capacity of neutrophils in young adults: a preliminary study. Am J Chin Med 2003;31(1):141-148.
- Li M, Chen K, Mo Z. Use of qigong therapy in the detoxification of heroin addicts. Altern Ther Health Med 2002;Jan-Feb, 8(1):50-54, 56-59.
- Morone NE, Greco CM. Pain Med. Mind-body interventions for chronic pain in older adults: a structured review. 2007 May-Jun;8(4):359-375.
- Natural Standard Research Collaboration, Chief Editors: Ulbricht C, Basch E, Natural Standard Herb and Supplement Reference. Evidence-Based Clinical Reviews, USA.
- Elsevier/Mosby, 2005. Ospina MB, Bond K, Karkhaneh M, et al. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep): meditation practices for health. State of the research. 2007;Jun, (155):1-263.
- Pippa L, Manzoli L, Corti I, et al. Functional capacity after traditional Chinese medicine (qi gong) training in patients with chronic atrial fibrillation: a randomized controlled trial. 2007;Winter, 10(1):22-25.
- Stenlund T, Lindstrom B, Granlund M, et al. Cardiac rehabilitation for the elderly: Qi Gong and group discussions. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil 2005;12(1):5-11.
- Tsang HW, Cheung L, Lak DC. Qigong as a psychosocial intervention for depressed elderly with chronic physical illnesses. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 2002;Dec, 17(12):1146-1154.
- Tsang HW, Mok CK, Au Yeung YT, Chan SY. The effect of Qigong on general and psychosocial health of elderly with chronic physical illnesses: a randomized clinical trial. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 2003;May, 18(5):441-449.
- Yang ZC, Yang SH, Yang SS, Chen DS. A hospital-based study on the use of alternative medicine in patients with chronic liver and gastrointestinal diseases. Am J Chin Med 2002;30(4):637-643.
- Zauner-Dungl A. [Is Qi Gong suitable for the prevention of low back pain?]. Wien Med Wochenschr 2004;154(23-24):564-567.
Last updated May 06, 2008
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