ANDYou may have seen these lately: Vitality Swings or “Chi Machines” on Amazon. They are gaining popularity, especially on TikTok; maybe a little delayed success as they starred on the TV show The Doctors almost a decade ago. Its purported benefits include relief from back, neck, and hip pain, as well as relief from fibromyalgia and lymphedema (swelling caused by the buildup of lymphatic fluid throughout the body).
While you may have heard the term chi (or qi) from Traditional Chinese Medicine, that oomph doesn’t come from it, says R. Alexandra Duma, DC, DACBSP, exercise chiropractor at FICS, a New York City gym and wellness studio. “The chi machine was developed in Japan in the 1980s,” she says, explaining that it is intended for “passive aerobic exercise, a form of exercise that involves essentially constant movement and pressure on parts of the body from an external force exercised, which “can be another person or a movement machine.”
So … do you need one? What is the purpose of one of these swings?
What does the Chi machine do?
There is actually one study on the Chi machine, specifically a small clinical study published in Lymphology (“33 people with chronic secondary lymphedema; 28 women and five men, ages 39 to 88”) that has shown that it can help relieve lymphedema. (Remember, this is a small study done over 15 years ago with what appears to be funding from a Chi Machine brand.)
As for the rest of the claims – improving the immune system, improving blood circulation, massaging the “body and internal organs”, improving “cell oxygenation”, helping weight loss and relieving anxiety, fibromyalgia and back pain? There does not appear to be any peer-reviewed literature to support this.
Is the Chi Machine Good for You?
It definitely could be! Board certified pain therapist Kaliq Chang, MD of the Atlantic Spine Center in New Jersey believes that this swing could help your spinal health “as long as the movement is gentle and controlled.”
Dr. Chang explains that the intervertebral discs (that is, the material between the individual vertebrae of your spine) “have no blood vessels -[think of it] like a sponge. This movement, which mimics walking, helps massage the disc in such a way that it releases waste materials and inflammation products and brings fresh blood and healing proteins into the disc. “
Duma agrees. “I can see that this machine is helpful with circulatory and lymphatic drainage, especially when you are [often] on their feet. It looks like it can be a great way to loosen up stiff joints and loosen up the leg muscles. “
“This is especially good for people with degenerative disc disease or herniated discs, as long as it doesn’t make the pain worse,” says Dr. Chang.
Warnings Before Using a Chi Machine
As with anything related to the spine, be careful. “There is no one size fits all, and that should also apply to this machine,” says Duma. “Consultation with a healthcare provider would be recommended prior to use to ensure there are no contraindications. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to someone who recently had a fracture, for sure. “
Dr. Chang has similar views. “These patients with acute, severe back pain are not a good candidate for this treatment because the muscle spasms may prevent movement and the spine may cause more inflammation,” he says.
Should You Get a Chi Machine?
From what the doctors said, if you don’t have degenerative disc disease and your PT, chiropractor, or spine doctor hasn’t recommended one … you probably don’t need these swings. But when it calls you, speak to your doctor and get cleared for some home swing action first.
Ultimately, it also depends on your budget, says Duma. “I believe it would be valuable to spend money on a proper evaluation and diagnosis by a doctor before using this device.”
Do you have lower back pain? Follow this 13 minute guided route to alleviate it:
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