This exploratory study proposal is the first pilot brain imaging study to determine if Tai
Chi can modulate brain resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) and brain morphometry
among fibromyalgia (FM) patients and healthy controls.
Twenty-four FM patients and 24 age matched healthy control will be recruited. All FM
patients will undergo Tai Chi intervention twice weekly for 12 weeks of practice. fMRI
resting state and brain structure data will be collected before and after treatment. For the
healthy control group, the fMRI and structure data will only be collected once,
contemporaneous with the 12 week scan for the fibromyalgia patients.
The primary outcome will be rsFC of rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), a key region
in descending pain modulatory system (DPMS). The secondary outcome include change of the
cortical thickness changes, fibromyalgia symptom severity, widespread pain index,
depression, stress/anxiety, sleep quality, and quality of life. Covariates include age,
gender, body mass index, disease duration, depression, and comorbidities. Clinical outcome
measurements will be collected at baseline and after 12 weeks of intervention for the
fibromyalgia cohort and at a single visit for the healthy controls. The Tai Chi classes will
be taught at Tufts Medical Center and the fMRI scans will be performed at Massachusetts
General Hospital Martinos Center.
The project will advance science in the field of mind-body medicine for chronic pain
management, both mechanistically and clinically.
- Age 21 years or older.
- Fulfills the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 1990 classification criteria for
FM: (1) a history of widespread musculoskeletal pain on the right and left sides of
the body as well as above and below the waist for a minimum duration of 3 months, and
(2) pain in 11 or more of 18 specific tender points with moderate or greater
tenderness reported upon digital palpation.22
- Fulfills the ACR 2010 diagnostic criteria for FM: (WPI ≥7 AND SS ≥5) OR (WPI 3-6 AND
SS ≥9) and does not have a disorder that would otherwise explain the pain23
- Willing to complete a 12-week, twice-a-week Tai Chi exercise program.
- Willing to abstain from Aerobic Exercise or other new formalized exercise programs
until completion of the study.
- Willing to undergo MRI at baseline and follow-up.
- Prior experience with Tai Chi or other similar types of Complementary and Alternative
Medicine in the past 1 year such as Qi gong and yoga since these share some of the
principles of Tai Chi.
- Dementia, neurological disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease,
metabolic disease, renal disease, liver disease, or other serious medical conditions
limiting ability to participate in the Tai Chi programs, as determined by the study
- Any other diagnosed medical condition known to contribute to FM symptomatology, such
as thyroid disease, inflammatory arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosis, rheumatoid
arthritis, myositis, vasculitis or Sjogren's syndrome.
- Inability to pass the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q)
- Inability to pass the Mini-Mental Status examination (with a score below 24)24
Enrollment in any other clinical trial within the last 30 days
- Plan to permanently relocate from the region during the trial period
- Presence of any contraindications to fMRI scanning. Including but not limited to:
cardiac pacemaker, metal implants, fear of closed spaces, pregnancy, weight >300 lbs
- Non-English Speaking.