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Tai Chi improves symptoms of fibromyalgia


3 Star

Tai Chi improves symptoms of fibromyalgia

Our Review Summary

While the story has some shortcomings — including an overstated headline (given the size and other limitations of the study) — it still manages to offer a fuller picture of the merits of the research than some of the other coverage.


Why This Matters

 Even a quick blog post can pull together some of the appropriate context to make a headline grabber like this informative.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

 The story does not discuss costs.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story says that "On a 100-point scale that measures fibromyalgia symptoms, with 100 being the most severe, the tai chi patients’ scores decreased an average of 27.8 points compared to 9.4 points in the control group. More people in the tai chi group stopped taking their medications and reported better sleep quality and less pain and depression." Most of the other stories focused on the relative number of patients who improved between the two groups. Comparing the actual point decrease of the patients’ scores was an interesting approach. We wish, though, that the story had provided some details on how meaningful these "point" changes were in peoples’ lives.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

 There is no mention of potential harms. 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.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


 The story is based on a small study of limited duration. The story does qualify the results in two ways – by giving readers the specifics on the different results demonstrated by the study’s two groups of patients – those who participated in tai chi and those assigned to a different course. In addition, the article includes some cautionary comments from an accompanying editorial.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


 The article avoids disease-mongering. It does not include any dubious statistics about the number of sufferers, though an accurate statistic would have been welcome. 

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

 No use of independent sources or identification of conflicts of interest.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


 The article briefly describes other methods of treating fibromyalgia. It would have been helpful to have more detail about the type of "lifestyle changes" doctors currently recommend, to ascertain how they might relate to the practice of tai chi. That said, the article did ask the question of how tai chi might work to relieve symptoms. 

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

 Like other coverage of the study, this article does not discuss the availability of tai chi classes. The article does offer a brief explanation of what tai chi is – a description absent from some other coverage.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


This article gives the impression that tai chi would be a genuinely novel approach to the treatment of fibromyalgia, noting that there are only a few approved medications for the condition. Beyond that, patients rely on lifestyle changes and cognitive therapy. If this is an accurate summary of the options currently available, readers of this article will have a better understanding of tai chi’s novelty.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


 This research was published in the New Englad Journal of Medicine. It appears that the article relied on the journal for its information. That said, the article did report some of the cautionary observations included in an accompanying editorial.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory


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