Study design: Randomized controlled trial.
Objective: To evaluate whether qigong is more effective than no treatment and not inferior to exercise therapy.
Summary of background data: Lifetime prevalence of chronic neck pain is close to 50%. Qigong is often used by patients, although, the evidence is still unclear.
Methods: Patients (aged 20-60 years) with chronic neck pain (visual analog scale, VAS ≥ 40 mm) were randomized to 1) qigong or 2) exercise therapy (18 sessions over 6 months) or 3) waiting list (no treatment). At baseline and after 3 and 6 months, patients completed standardized questionnaires assessing neck pain (VAS), neck pain and disability, and quality of life (Short Form SF-36 questionnaire, SF-36). The primary endpoint was average pain in the last 7 days on VAS at 6-month follow-up. Statistical analysis included generalized estimation equation models adjusted for baseline values and patient expectation.
Results: A total of 123 patients (aged 46 ± 11 years, 88% women) suffering from chronic neck pain for 3.2 (SD ± 1.6) years were included. After 6 months, a significant difference was seen between the qigong and waiting list control groups (VAS mean difference: -14 mm [95%CI = -23.1 to -5.4], P = 0.002). Mean improvements in the exercise group were comparable to those in the qigong group (difference between groups -0.7 mm [CI = -9.1 to 7.7]) but failed to show statistical significance (P = 0.092). Neck pain and disability, and SF-36 results also yielded superiority of qigong over no treatment and similar results in the qigong and exercise therapy groups.
Conclusion: Qigong was more effective than no treatment in patients with chronic neck pain. Further studies could be designed without waiting list control and should use a larger sample to clarify the value of qigong compared to exercise therapy.