Treating vertigo and dizziness with Tai Chi?

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© Peter Frank/Corbis

Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese art that combines slow, controlled stretching with meditation, has long been praised by advocates of alternative medicine for its broad range of health benefits, including improved muscle tone and balance, as well as pain reduction. The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has funded studies analyzing the benefits of Tai Chi for everyone from cancer survivors and patients battling fibromyalgia to people with chronic heart failure and depression.

And research presented this past weekend in San Diego at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, suggests that Tai Chi may benefit another group too. For patients battling vestibular disorders—a range of inner ear balance disorders that can cause vertigo, dizziness, nausea and other problems with overall balance—who haven’t had luck with more conventional treatment strategies, Tai Chi may provide some relief. The preliminary findings from a small analysis of 21 patients who had struggled with main stream therapies for their vestibular disorders, found that, after practicing Tai Chi for just two months, the participants reported experiencing a marked decrease in symptoms like vertigo and nausea, and an improvement in their balance.

Though as of yet it’s unclear how Tai Chi may combat the symptoms of vestibular disorders—the researchers theorize that it is a combination of improved balance, cardiovascular function and stabilized gait—the research may offer some hope to patients unable to find relief using more conventional treatments.