Tai Chi Chuan, an ancient Chinese martial art form practiced for both its defense training and health benefits, could provide relief to patients suffering from fibromyalgia, new research has suggested.

Researchers at the Tufts Medical Center in Boston worked with 66 volunteers suffering from the disease with one group doing hour-long Tai Chi sessions twice a week for 12 weeks and the other sticking to gentle workouts.

While the first group reported improvements in both physical and mental symptoms of the disease like reduction in pain and enhanced ability to work on daily tasks, the second group showed limited change in the symptoms.

In addition to the obvious improvements, the patients who performed Tai Chi also reported less fatigue and depression besides better quality of sleep and overall physical conditioning.

Fibromyalgia is a disease that brings widespread pain, fatigue, insomnia and multiple tender points in the patients that could also cause psychological issues like anxiety, depression, memory and concentration lapses. It is estimated that more than 10 million people in the United States suffer from the disease of which about 80 percent are women.

Lead researcher Dr. Chenchen Wang, an associate professor of medicine in the rheumatology department at Tufts Medical Center, reported that the changes were evident within the first week itself.

In the past, doctors suggested exercise, sleep hygiene techniques and medications to treat Fibromyalgia but with limited success, says Dr. Gloria Yeh, assistant professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, who wrote an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, which carried Dr. Wang's research findings.

While most patients continue to experience pain many years after the initial diagnosis, remain aerobically unfit and seem to have poor muscle strength and flexibility. Though larger studies are required to confirm the findings, it seems Tai Chi could be used to provide early relief to the patients.