This study examined whether a traditional low-impact mind–body exercise, Tai Chi, affects health-related quality-of-life (HRQOL) and headache impact in an adult population suffering from tension-type headaches.

According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches, with losses of $50 billion a year to absenteeism and medical expenses and an excess of $4 billion spent on over-the-counter medications.

Tension-type headaches (TTH), which represent approximately 78% of all headaches, occur either in single episodes or chronically, and are often the result of temporary stress, anxiety, fatigue or anger. Symptoms include soreness and pain, a tightening band-like sensation around the head, pressure sensations, and contracted head and neck muscles.

Symptoms are bilateral and are not aggravated by physical activity. Standard care for TTH includes relaxation routines, massage, biofeedback, pharmacological interventions (such as over-the-counter pain killers and muscle relaxants) and stress reduction.

Tai Chi is a form of traditional Chinese exercise that purports to improve health by changes in mental focus, breathing, coordination and relaxation. The goal of Tai Chi is to ‘rebalance’ the body's own healing capacity. Tai Chi has been practiced in China for hundreds of years and is now widely practiced throughout the world. It has been estimated that over 100 million people regularly practice Tai Chi in China alone.

As examined in recent review articles, studies have shown that Tai Chi can help to improve balance and prevent falls in the elderly, improve musculoskeletal conditions, lower hypertension, enhance cardiovascular and respiratory function, improve mental health, and enhance endocrine and immune functioning.

This study sought to examine whether Tai Chi would prove to be effective in the treatment of TTH. As early as 1990, relaxation therapy and biofeedback had been shown to be effective in the treatment of TTH, and Tai Chi may have an effect similar to both of these interventions. Also, it has been demonstrated that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of TTH, and it is believed in TCM theory that acupuncture and Tai Chi operate along the same principles.

Read the full paper here.