Swiss researchers have found that tai chi practice can reduce psychobiological stress reactivity in healthy subjects. A group of 70 healthy men and women were randomly assigned to either tai chi classes or a waiting list. After three months, participants underwent a standardised psychosocial stress test, combining public speaking and mental arithmetic in front of an audience. Compared with controls, tai chi participants exhibited significantly lower stress-induced increases in heart rate and levels of salivary cortisol, as well as lower salivary a-amylase levels. The tai chi group also reported a smaller increase in perceived stressfulness and maintained a higher level of calmness in response to induced stress. (Taiji practice attenuates psychobiological stress reactivity–a randomized controlled trial in healthy subjects. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 Aug;37(8):1171-80).

Chinese researchers have concluded that tai chi may be able to improve immune status in lung cancer survivors, and thereby potentially help to prevent tumour recurrence. A controlled study was performed in 32 post-surgical, non­-small cell lung cancer survivors who practiced tai chi during a 16-week recovery period. The balance between cellular and humoral immunity (measured by T1 / T2 and Tc1/Tc2 ratios), which potentiates human immunity against tumours, deteriorated in the control group over the course of post-surgical recovery, whilst no such changes were observed in the tai chi group. Cortisol levels were also found to have also increased in the control group, but not in the tai chi group. (Regular Tai Chi Exercise Decreases the Percentage of Type 2 Cytokine-Producing Cells in Postsurgical Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Survivors. Cancer Nurs. 2012 Oct 9. [Epub ahead of print]).

A preliminary study from Portugal suggests that practicing a short daily qigong routine can be an effective tool for the self-management of burnout in physiotherapists. A group of 106 physiotherapists completed a burnout inventory questionnaire and the researchers selected those with the highest levels of burnout to form the qigong and control groups. The intervention group of eight physiotherapists performed a specific qigong set (‘White Ball’ qigong) twice a day for five minutes each time, while the control group consisted of eight physiotherapists on a waiting list. At the end of a three-week period of treatment or waiting list, both groups repeated the burnout questionnaire. Within the study group, qigong lowered the mean values of the Emotional Exhaustion subscale from 38.0 to 31.4, whereas in the control group the values rose from 33.9 to 37.9. The difference between the two groups was statistically significant. (Qigong therapy for physiotherapists suffering from burnout: a preliminary study. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2012 Nov;10(11):1233-9).

Tai chi provides greater fall-prevention benefits than conventional physical therapy exercises for frail seniors, according to a Canadian study. A total of 152 frail older adults were randomised to receive a 15-week intervention, consisting of either supervised tai chi exercises, or conventional physical therapy. Both interventions demonstrated a protective effect on falls, but the effect of tai chi was significantly greater compared with physical therapy. (Efficacy of supervised Tai Chi exercises versus conventional physical therapy exercises in fall prevention for frail older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Disabil Rehabil. 2012 Nov 20. [Epub ahead of print]).


An Australian systematic review has found preliminary support for the use of acupuncture as a means to enhance exercise performance and post-exercise recovery. Four trials were reviewed by the researchers, of which three evaluated the effect of acupuncture on exercise performance. One of these trials noted that electro-acupuncture stimulation at either Jianshi P-5 and Neiguan P-6 or Lieque LU-7 and Hegu L.I.-4 significantly increased peak power output, blood pressure and rate pressure product (RPP) versus control. Two trials documented no effect of acupuncture on exercise performance. The other trial evaluated the effect of acupuncture on post-exercise recovery and found that heart rate, oxygen consumption and blood lactate were significantly reduced following acupuncture at Neiguan P-6 and Zusanli ST-36, versus control and placebo conditions, at 30 or 60 minutes post exercise. The authors recommend more high-quality studies. (Effect of Acute Acupuncture Treatment on Exercise Performance and Postexercise Recovery: A Systematic Review. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Sep 11. [Epub ahead of print]).

The evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture for plantar heel pain (PHP) is comparable to that available for conventionally used interventions such as stretching, night splints or dexamethasone, according to British authors. Five randomised controlled trials and three non-randomised comparative studies were included in their systematic review. The authors report that high quality studies found significant benefits for acupuncture and conclude that acupuncture should be considered in recommendations for the management of patients with PHP. (The effectiveness of acupuncture for plantar heel pain: a systematic review. Acupunct Med. 2012 Dec;30(4):298-306).

A meta-analysis carried out by Chinese authors suggests that acupuncture may be beneficial in the rehabilitation of patients with dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing) caused by stroke. Meta-analysis using data from 72 RCTs (6134 patients) showed that acupuncture was more effective than no-acupuncture, although study quality was generally rated as low. The authors conclude that the evidence justifies future high-quality studies. (A meta-analysis of the efficacy of acupuncture in treating dysphagia in patients with a stroke. Acupunct Med. 2012 Dec;30(4):291-7).

Acupuncture is a cost-effective treatment modality, according to Korean authors who performed a systematic review of economic evaluations carried out alongside randomised controlled trials. Of the 17 studies included, nine were cost-utility analyses (CUAs) that measured quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), and eight were cost-effectiveness analyses (CEAs) that assessed the effectiveness of acupuncture based on improvements in clinical symptoms. All CUAs showed that acupuncture, with or without usual care, was cost-effective compared with waiting list control or usual care alone. In the CEAs, acupuncture was found to be beneficial at a relatively low cost in six studies. (A systematic review of cost-effectiveness analyses alongside randomised controlled trials of acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 2012 Dec;30(4):273-85).


A case report from the UK demonstrates the potential benefits of acupuncture in the treatment of phantom limb pain. A man suffering from phantom limb pain and sensation, following an above-elbow arm amputation, received seven weekly acupuncture sessions on his intact left arm. The treatment resulted in complete relief of the phantom limb pain and considerable improvement of the phantom limb sensation of his right arm. (Acupuncture treatment of phantom limb pain and phantom limb sensation in a primary care setting. Acupunct Med. 2012 Dec 6. [Epub ahead of print]).


Case studies of two injured American soldiers have shown that scalp acupuncture can relieve pain and restore function and sensation in complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). CRPS can result from trauma or surgery and causes symptoms including neuropathic pain, allodynia, changes to sweating and decreased range of motion. It is often difficult to manage effectively and, if not recognised early, can result in significant debility. Two subjects who had been diagnosed with CRPS after sustaining upper extremity injuries during military operations, and who had failed to respond to conventional treatment, received Chinese scalp acupuncture (CSA) once or twice a week for one to four weeks. CSA resulted in improvement in pain scores by over 80% in both soldiers, and decreased sensory changes and improved function were also noted. Treatment response was found to be sustained at 20-month follow-up with no recurrence. (Chinese scalp acupuncture relieves pain and restores function in complex regional pain syndrome. Mil Med. 2012 Oct;177(10):1231-4).