Qigong is as effective as exercise therapy for alleviating long-term, nonspecific neck pain, according to a small study published in the October 15 issue of Spine (2007; 32, 2415-22). A wellness practice from Chinese medicine, qigong uses slow movements, breathing exercises and meditation to improve the flow of qi, or life energy. The aim is to restore balance in body, mind and spirit. “Exercise therapy” in this study consisted of stretching, strengthening and mobility moves.

Researchers in Sweden divided 122 patients with long-term, nonspecific neck pain into two groups: qigong or exercise therapy. Subjects’ average age was 44 years. Both groups received 12 sessions over a 3-month period. Investigators measured improvement immediately after treatment and at 6- and 12-month follow-up appointments. All participants experienced similar reductions in pain.

Readers should note the study’s limitations: its small size, lack of a control group, lack of a precise diagnosis for neck pain and lack of blinding (i.e., researchers knew which group each subject was in).