Chi Machines Are Gaining Popularity—But Are They Safe?
While you may have heard the term chi (or qi) from Traditional Chinese Medicine, that’s not where this swing comes from, says R. Alexandra Duma, DC, DACBSP, a sports chiropractor at FICS, a fitness recovery and wellness studio in New York City. “The Chi machine was designed in Japan in the '80s,” she says, explaining that its purpose is for “passive aerobic exercise, a form of exercise which basically involves applying constant movement and pressure to parts of the body through an outside force which may be another individual or a motion machine.”
So… do you need one? What is the purpose of one of these swings?
What does the Chi Machine do?
There actually is a study on the Chi Machine, specifically a small clinical trial published in Lymphology (“33 people with chronic secondary lymphedema; 28 females and five males, aged 39 to 88”) that showed it can help relieve lymphedema. (Keep in mind that this is a small study, conducted over 15 years ago with what appears to be funding from a Chi Machine brand.)
As for the rest of the claims—improving your immune system, enhancing circulation, massaging “body and internal organs,” improving “cell oxygenation,” supporting weight loss, and relieving anxiety, fibromyalgia, and back pain? No peer-reviewed literature seems to exist to validate any of that.
Is the Chi Machine any good for you?
It definitely could be! Board-certified pain management physician Kaliq Chang, MD with Atlantic Spine Center in New Jersey believes this swing could be helpful for your spinal health, “as long as the motion is gentle and controlled.”
Dr. Chang explains that the intervertebral discs (i.e., the stuff between each vertebrae of your spine) “have no blood vessels—[think of it] like a sponge. This motion that mimics walking helps massage the disc in a way that it can release waste and inflammatory products and introduce fresh blood and healing proteins into the disc.”
Duma agrees. “I can see this machine being helpful with circulation and lymphatic drainage, especially if one is [often] on their feet. It looks like it can be a good way to loosen up stiff joints and loosen up leg muscles.”
“This is especially good for those with degenerative disc disease or disc herniations, as long as it does not aggravate the pain,” says Dr. Chang.
Warnings before using a Chi Machine
As with anything spine-related, exercise caution. “There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all, and this should be applied to this machine also,” says Duma. “A consultation with a healthcare provider would be recommended before utilizing it to make sure there are no contraindications. I would definitely not recommend this to someone who had a recent fracture, for sure.”
Dr. Chang has similar sentiments. “Those patients in acute, severe back pain episodes are not a good candidate for this treatment, as the muscle spasms may not allow the motion and it can cause the spine more inflammation,” he says.
Should you get a Chi Machine?
From what the docs said, if you don’t have degenerative disc disease, and your PT, chiropractor, or spinal doctor haven’t recommended one… you probably don’t need one of these swings. But if it’s calling to you, talk to your healthcare provider and get cleared for some at-home swing action first.
At the end of the day, it also depends on your budget, says Duma. “I believe that spending money on a proper evaluation and diagnosis from a healthcare professional would be valuable before using this machine.”
Got lower-back pain? Follow this 13-minute guided stretch to alleviate it:
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