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.
Even a quick blog post can pull together some of the appropriate context to make a headline grabber like this informative.
The story does not discuss costs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No use of independent sources or identification of conflicts of interest.
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.
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.
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.
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.