Subscription is FREE for qualified healthcare professionals in the US.

March 2012 Pain Research Updates


Tai Chi Improves Balance in Patients With Parkinson’s Disease

Arecent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that tai chi training has shown to reduce balance impairments in patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease, in addition to reducing falls and improving functional capacity.1 The investigators set out to examine the effects of the exercise on patients with impaired balance because, although exercise is routinely encouraged by health care providers, few programs have shown efficacy.

The randomized controlled trial consisted of 195 enrolled patients, all varying from stage 1 to stage 4 in Parkinson’s disease severity. The patients were segmented into three different exercise groups: tai chi, resistance training, and stretching. Those patients in the tai chi group performed consistently better in maximum excursion than those in the other two groups. Investigators also noted that the effects of tai chi were maintained for three months following the intervention, with no serious adverse events observed.

Music Found Effective in Reducing Responses to Pain

Researchers from the University of Utah’s Pain Research Center have evaluated the effect of listening to music in order to alleviate pain, determining that music can be effective for pain relief in people who experience high levels of anxiety.2

Investigators found that music helps to reduce pain by engaging cognitive attention through the activation of sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways, stimulating emotional responses. However, personality factors determine the efficacy; people who are more anxious and more easily absorbed in activities may find listening to music is more effective in relieving pain.

When recommending behavioral interventions such as music listening for pain relief, clinicians need to evaluate the patient’s personality traits to determine whether this type of therapy would be suitable and effective, concluded the investigators.

A FAST Approach to Arthritis Diagnosis

Rheumatologists at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center are using a new approach in the treatment of arthritis—ultrasound.3 According to the hospital, the new clinics offer fast arthritis sonographic evaluation and treatment (FAST), a system aimed at improving the treatment of arthritis through a more accurate and quicker diagnosis.

By using an ultrasound machine to assess for arthritis, physicians immediately have a clear picture of tendons in joints while they are in motion, as opposed to the traditional method of manually taking a sample of joint fluid. The goal is for patients to receive a diagnosis, treatment, and be on the road to recovery with less need for x-rays, needle biopsies, and other tests.

Wii-Based Therapy Shows Gains in Post-Stroke Rehabilitation

A study conducted by McNulty et al found that Wii-based movement therapy improves upper limb function and creates a cardiovascular challenge for post-stroke patients.4 The effect on the heart rate generated by playing a Wii Sports game can be used to individualize therapy for patients according to fitness levels and cardiac status, noted the investigators.

Oftentimes, fitness can be overlooked in rehabilitation programs that focus on effective locomotion. According to the investigators’ observations, “peak heart rate significantly increased from early to late therapy (p<0.001), becoming 38% higher on average than resting rates by late therapy.” Of the 18 patients enrolled (15 men, 3 women), the ability to perform everyday tasks saw a 127% improvement, though results need to be confirmed in a larger study.


Last updated on: June 19, 2012
First published on: March 1, 2012