Qigong

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Qigong

Common Names

  • Chi Kung
  • Chan Chuang
  • Yì Jīn Jīng
  • Yan Xin
  • Wu Qin Xi

For Patients & Caregivers

Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.


What Is It

Qigong combines body movements, muscle relaxation, meditation, and breathing to improve physical, mental, and emotional health. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine principles, disturbed or blocked flow of qi can produce discomfort and illness within an individual. Free flow of qi is associated with better health. Qigong is generally considered a low-intensity exercise.

How It Works

Studies show that qigong practice can have many positive effects, particularly among patients with cancer, chronic illnesses, and breathing problems, as well as older adults. Benefits include improved lung function, mood, sleep, and quality of life, as well as reduced stress, pain, anxiety, and fatigue. It is also beneficial for overall health maintenance, particularly in older adults. Some studies have shown the amount of benefit corresponds to amount of practice.

Purported Uses
  • Anxiety
    Clinical studies show that qigong may be helpful for anxiety.
  • Blood pressure reduction
    A few studies show that regular qigong practice can have positive effects on blood pressure levels.
  • Breathing difficulty
    Clinical data show that qigong is effective in improving lung function and breathing efficiency, especially in patients with COPD.
  • Depression
    Current data are inconclusive. More research is needed.
  • Fatigue
    Qigong was found useful for reducing chronic fatigue.
  • Fibromyalgia
    Clinical trials have shown benefits of qigong in patients with fibromyalgia.
  • Health maintenance
    A few studies show that qigong can increase activity tolerance and improve balance, endurance, and body composition, particularly in older adults.
  • Inflammation
    A randomized study evaluating qigong in cancer patients found that inflammation was greatly reduced after 10 weeks of practice.
  • Mental functioning
    In small studies, qigong practice resulted in improved cognitive function, including increased attention and processing speed in older adults.
  • Mood
    Data suggest that qigong practice may improve mood.
  • Numbness
    A small study showed reduction in numbness in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. This may occur because qigong acts as an upper extremity exercise which is often recommended for post-surgery patients to stimulate circulation.
  • Pain
    A few studies found qigong reduced sense of pain in patients receiving chemotherapy and in those with fibromyalgia.
  • Sleep disturbance
    Qigong may have positive effects on sleep quality.
  • Stress
    Some studies suggest that qigong can reduce stress in cancer patients and in older adults.
Is It Safe
  • A few cases of qigong-induced mental disorders have been reported in China. These were thought to result from inappropriate training, and practicing extreme forms of meditation.
  • If you are weak, particularly due to chemotherapy, consult your doctor before starting more strenuous forms of qigong practice.
Who Can Provide this Service

Organizations such as the National Qigong Association certify Qigong practitioners. The Medical Tai Chi and Qigong Association (MTQA) is working toward an accreditation standard guideline for instructors and training institutions.

Where Can I Get Treatment

Many hospitals as well as cancer and community centers offer qigong classes.

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For Healthcare Professionals

Clinical Summary

Developed nearly 5,000 years ago in China, qigong integrates methods of body movement, muscle relaxation, meditation, and respiratory exercise to improve physical, emotional, and psychological health. Traditional Chinese Medicine contends that qigong promotes a balanced flow of qi (chee) within the body. It describes disturbed qi as producing discomfort and illness. Conversely, with free flow of qi, one is believed to be in better health (1) (2). In Asian cultures, qi is a widely accepted concept of vital energy force, although its physical existence has not been demonstrated scientifically.

There are many forms and variations of qigong. In addition, there are some similarities between qigong and tai chi (or taiji), as both are mind–body–spirit integrative exercises (3) and they are often practiced together. Traditionally, qigong is used for therapeutic purposes. In external qigong, a trained master may transmit energy to a recipient with or without touching (5). One might also practice internal qigong by cultivating qi to heal ailments. However, due to lack of scientific evidence and uniform approaches, qigong is rarely used to treat disease in the Western world.

As a form of exercise, qigong can be classified by the level of motion. Static qigong refers to meditation in sitting, standing, and lying-down postures. Dynamic qigong refers to moving meditation, which can also take on many forms (4). Simplified versions, such as the Eight Brocades have been developed so they can be taught to, and practiced, by a large number of people with minimal training. These are also used in clinical studies because they have standardized movements with reproducible effects.

Qi gong, as well as yoga and tai chi, are recommended by an international expert panel for management of knee osteoarthritis (36). In several small studies, regular qigong practice has been shown to benefit patients with hypertension (6), fibromyalgia (7) (41), chronic fatigue (8), tinnitus (9), and other chronic conditions (10). In addition, it may improve sleep quality, climacteric symptoms, muscle endurance, waist-to-hip ratio, and BMI in middle-aged women (11) (12).

Qigong may be beneficial for cardiopulmonary rehabilitation (18) (19). It improved respiratory function and endurance in patients with COPD (13) (49), cardiorespiratory function and expiratory capacity in patients with hypertension (14), and reduced stress along with improving sleep quality, activity levels, immune response, balance, and pain in older adults (15) (16) (17) (42). A meta-analysis found qigong has benefit as a therapy option in Parkinson’s disease to increase motor function, walking ability, and balance (50). Neurocognitive benefits observed in the elderly after qigong include increased processing speed, attention, and hippocampal volume along with reduced inflammation (51). Data on whether qigong is effective against depression are inconclusive (33) (43).

In oncology settings, qigong may serve as a useful complementary therapy. Clinical studies indicate positive effects on anxiety, mood, depression, and quality of life (1) (20) (34), and on physical symptoms such as pain, numbness, dizziness, fatigue, inflammation, and cognitive function (1) (21) (22) (45) (48). Improvements in physical activity patterns and BMI have also been reported (37). Preliminary data suggest qigong may help reduce upper limb lymphedema in breast cancer survivors (35), alleviate persistent post-surgical pain (47), and confer psychosocial benefits (46). In patients with advanced lung and GI cancers, medical qigong had effects similar to strength training on psychological function, but not exercise capacity (38). More research is needed to not only confirm these findings, but to fully elucidate the mechanisms by which qigong exerts its positive effects.

Qigong is generally considered a low-intensity exercise. Patients should be aware that it is not a cancer treatment per se, but can be practiced to help alleviate symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments. Those who are weak, particularly due to chemotherapy, should consult a physician before taking on more strenuous forms of qigong (27).

Mechanism of Action

Qigong incorporates muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, meditation, and body movements to foster a free, stabilized, and unobstructed internal flow of qi (2). Through this mind-body dynamic, qigong can play an integral role in hypothalamic activity, easing both parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems (PNS, SNS) towards a state of homeostasis (1) (27). Lower blood pressure exhibited following qigong exercise are compatible with stabilized SNS activity (6) (14); it also modulates urinary catecholamine levels (14).

Pulmonary benefits observed are likely due to the focused, deep breathing powered by lower abdominal muscles in an area known as tantien (dawn-dee-in), which is considered the body’s main energy center. This places less pressure on the lungs, increases lung capacity (13), and improves ventilatory function (14) and breathing efficiency (19). The potential to reduce BMI may also be related to tantien contractions, which strengthens the waist and increases calorific consumption (12).

Neurocognitive benefits in the elderly after qigong training have been associated with greater reductions in peripheral IL-6 levels and increased right hippocampal grey matter volume (51). Qigong may modify inflammation by affecting immune response via neuroendocrine factors (1) (28). Potential antidepressive effects may occur via increased adiponectin levels (39) and downregulation of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis hyperactivity (10).

The effect of qigong on numbness in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy may be due to its stimulatory action as an upper extremity exercise, which is often recommended for post-surgery patients (21). Its positive effect on balance is attributed to improved vestibular input and wider stances (16).

Adverse Reactions

A few cases of qigong-induced mental disorders have been reported in China, but these were thought to result from inappropriate training and practicing extreme forms of meditation (29) (30) (31).

Practitioners and Treatments

Organizations such as the National Qigong Association certify Qigong practitioners. The Medical Tai Chi and Qigong Association (MTQA) is working toward an accreditation standard guideline for instructors and training institutions (40).

Qigong classes are offered at hospitals as well as cancer and community centers.

Dosage (OneMSK Only)
References
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  2. Oh B, Butow P, Mullan B, et al. Medical Qigong for cancer patients: pilot study of impact on quality of life, side effects of treatment and inflammation. Am J Chin Med. 2008;36(3):459-472.
  3. Yang Y. The relation between wuji, taiji, and qigong. Available at: http://www.centerfortaiji.com. Accessed September 16, 2021.
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