Practicing the ancient Chinese art of Qigong for shoulder pain management might just be the right mindful movement technique you’ve been looking for to reduce your pain and improve your quality of life.
What is Qi Gong?
Qigong (or Qi Gong) is a form of mindful movement, a set of fluid exercises coordinated with rhythmic breathing that promote self-healing and wellbeing. It has been practiced in China for over 2,500 years.
Qi means ‘life energy’ and the purpose of this traditional practice is to balance the flow of qi through your body, and remove blockages caused by illness or stress.
Qigong practice involves three levels of mastery. In a guided class:
- you first learn the slow, flowing movements.
- Then you learn to coordinate your breath with each movement.
- Finally, you learn how to direct the flow of internal energy as you perform each exercise.
From a Western medical understanding, Qigong is beneficial because it is a low impact, a low-velocity form of exercise that promotes cardiovascular fitness, reduces blood pressure, increases flexibility and joint range of motion, improves anxiety, and lessens insomnia (Marks, 2017). It is effective at shifting nervous system activity (the medical equivalent of qi energy) from an anxious fight-or-flight state to a relaxed rest-and-digest state.
Qigong for Shoulder Pain Management
Qigong practice is effective at reducing pain and improving daily functioning in people living with arthritis, fibromyalgia, neck and shoulder pain, and chronic regional pain syndrome, among others (Lasich, 2011). Some of the movements aid in increasing blood circulation in the upper back and release muscle tension from the neck and shoulders.
The benefits can be felt after only a few weeks of instruction and sustained with regular daily or weekly practice (Sawynok, 2017).
For people who find that conventional forms of exercise exacerbate their pain, Qigong can be an effective alternative, because it is easier on joints and muscles than going jogging, cycling, or to the gym (Marks, 2017).
But Qigong is more than a form of physical exercise. It is a mind-body practice, which increases present-moment awareness, body awareness, and a calm state of mind (Sawynok, 2017). Studies show that Qigong improves mood, sleep, quality of life, and a general sense of well-being, along with pain reduction (Marks, 2017; Sawynok, 2017; and Wu, 1999).
As always, make sure you ask a health professional whether Qigong is a safe form of exercise for you to try. It may cause muscle soreness or twinges in some people.
Finding The Right Qigong For You
There are actually several types of Qigong, including internal Qigong for self-healing, martial arts Qigong for physical prowess (similar to Tai Chi), and spiritual Qigong for enlightenment.
When looking for an instructor, make sure that their focus is on ‘internal’ Qigong, meaning the self-cultivation of health through exercise classes led by an instructor. There are also Qigong videos on online platforms, like YouTube..
An in-person practitioner guides the flow of energy through your body using hand movements, in order to promote health and energy balance. This is called ‘external Qigong’ because an external healer is needed.
Unfortunately, Qigong is not a medically-regulated field, so there are different levels of training and ability among instructors. Several Qigong professional associations offer registries so you can find a reputable practitioner in your area. Check out the National Qigong Association, American Tai Chi and Qigong Association, and Qigong Institute.
Questions To Consider When Looking For A Qigong Instructor:
Does the instructor:
- Have a certification from a Qigong association?
- Have experience working with clients who have chronic pain?
- Offer modified classes like seated Qigong, if you needed?
- Ensure their focus on medical or internal Qigong, not martial or spiritual Qigong?
Ultimately, practicing Qigong for shoulder pain management is a safe and effective form of mindful movement for people with chronic pain, which could improve your energy, pain, and quality of life if you give it a try.