This is a well considered look at a limited study of an unusual approach to a disorder that has stumped clinicians for decades. It is the only one of the five stories we reviewed that quoted a patient about her experience. This has pluses and minuses. The patient’s extraordinary improvement after tai chi could give reader’s the impression that it will work for everyone. At the same time, it shows that the reporter attempted to gather a fuller picture of the study than most of the other reporters covering it. It could have included more cost information and could have examined the evidence a little more closely. Still, it is the best of the five stories we reviewed.
With a sensational topic like tai chi for a debilitating syndrome it is important to write even more clearly and dispassionately as possible. Whether clinicians really have a handle on what causes fibromyalgia remains to be seen, but the truth is that many patients feel shackled to the condition. If an alternative therapy can liberate them without surgery or dependency on long-term drug therapy, that would indeed be reason to celebrate.
At a minimum, the reporter could have found out how much the master used in the study typically charges and how much the DVD costs. Still, unlike most of the stories, this reporter did write, "Dr. Shmerling said that though tai chi is inexpensive compared with other treatments, some patients would reject such an alternative therapy."
The story presents the evidence in relative terms. It would have been nice to see the absolute numbers. Still, it’s easy to calculate roughly what one third of 33 would be and one sixth would be. Essentially about 11 people stopped taking drugs after tai chi, and 5 or 6 stopped using other therapies. That’s not a huge difference, but, because there was any improvement, the researchers and the journal were understandably curious and hoping the study might spark more research.
A big point of the story is that tai chi would be a much less onerous therapy with no harmful side effects. It is difficult to imagine that twice-weekly tai chi, like any other form of moderate exercise, would be harmful, but, at a minimum, the story could have reported upon the study’s adverse events registry. The journal article on which the story is based clearly discussed this.
The story makes it clear early that the study is small and that more research would be needed in order to recommend tai chi as a therapy.
There is no disease mongering and the description of the syndrome is the best of the five stories we reviewed.
Most of the quotes in the story are from people not affiliated with the study.
The story talks about how the study compared different alternatives, and it mentions, at least in passing, several other therapies.
The story makes it clear that there are multiple versions of tai chi. It could have been more clear about how widely available it might be, especially in sparsely populated areas.
The story says, "Recent studies have suggested that tai chi, with its slow exercises, breathing and meditation, could benefit patients with other chronic conditions, including arthritis. But not all of these reports have been conclusive, and tai chi is hard to study because there are many styles and approaches." This is all important context, succinctly presented. This story shows that you can pull together a lot of information and still keep the story tight.
The story is very well reported and goes well beyond the original study, the editorial and any supporting materials. We were unable to locate a press release about the study.