MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Lian gong (LG), also called Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa, is a form of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) from China.  More specifically, it is a set of stretching, breathing exercises, and self-massaging techniques aimed at preventing and relieving stress as well as acute pains around the neck, shoulders, back, hips, legs, joints, and connective tissues.  Even though it is relatively new, it is based on old Chinese stretching, breathing, and warm-up exercises dating back more than 1,000 years, including the Eight Silk Brocade (八段錦).  Lian gong has spread rapidly from China to other countries, especially to Japan and Brazil.

Lian Gong was developed by Dr. Zhuang Yuan Ming (1919- ), a traditional Chinese medical doctor, who started conducting a series of clinical trials around 1974 in a Shanghai hospital on patients suffering from a variety of stress-related conditions. Lian Gong is now being promoted as “massage in motion”.

One of the few controlled clinical studies of Liam gong aimed to evaluate the effects of LG on the impact of dizziness on the quality of life and fear of falling in primary health care patients. It was designed as a randomized clinical trial with 36 patients with dizziness not caused by central changes. The participants were randomly assigned to 3 groups:

  • the Liam gong (LG) group ( n = 11),
  • the vestibular rehabilitation (VR) group ( n = 11),
  • the control group ( n = 14).

The treatments were carried out over a period of 12 weeks.

Lian gong reduced the influence of dizziness on the quality of life in physical (1.8 points, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.2-3.4), functional (4.0 points, 95% CI: 2.1-5.9), and emotional domains of quality of life (4.4 points, 95% CI: 1.7-7.2), with no differences, compared with VR.

The authors concluded that Lian gong was shown to be an effective balance rehabilitation strategy to reduce the impact of dizziness on quality of life, with similar results to those of VR.

Unfortunately, this study has many flaws – not least its minute sample size. Therefore, the conclusions seem more than a little over-optimistic. I would not be all that surprised to learn that these exercises can have beneficial effects for a range of conditions. What seems doubtful in my view, however, is whether it is superior to more conventional exercise therapies.

8 Responses to Lian gong: a little-known form of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)

  • Funny how simple calisthenics become “miraculous” just because they have a Chinese name. 😀

  • O Edzard –
    what in heaven made you dig up this item?

    If, however, we intend to consider it seriously, we should first know what we are talking about. These “18 Liangong Exercises” (练功18法) are a small part of China’s huge Qigong (气功) spectrum. And we should remember that Qigong was not always welcome in modern China, nor is it today. In fact, the “Cultural revolution” (1966-1976) tried to eradicate it, mainly because there was always a narrow connection to superstitious practices. Even today, many Chinese believe in the existence of “outgoing Qi”, which means believing that a real Qigong master can direct his own “Qi” to other persons and to other places.
    After 1949, there were only 2 decades when Qigong in China really thrived. It became broadly popular after 1979, so that at the climax of its popularity there were about 20 specialized Qigong magazines published in mainland China. In Shanghai and Peking, you could observe people practicing all kinds of Taijiquan (which in fact belongs to the broad Qigong spectrum mentioned above) and Qigong forms in every public park. At that time the Communist party seemed to consider it as some kind of a harmless (and therefore preferable) substitution of religion. All this ended abruptly in 1999 when “Falun Gong” was forbidden in China.
    During these 20 years, many “masters” developed and introduced many different Qigong forms, like Guo Lin her “anti-cancer Guolin Qigong”, or Zhuang Yuanming his “18 Liangong Exercises”. As to the latter, there was a small booklet published in mainland China and in Hongkong, and the late Dr. Josefine Zöller introduced it in her book “Das Tao der Selbstheilung”. After 1980, these exercises could be seen in Chinese parks, though never as frequent as the traditional forms of Taijiquan, be it the long form with 88 movements or the simplified one (“Peking form”) in 24 movements.
    Last time when I visited Shanghai (2018), I did not see the “18 Liangong Exercises” in the parks. However, most of their movements were not invented by Zhuang Yuanming, but existed and still exist in many other forms of Qigong and Taijiquan.
    There can be no doubt that all these Chinese forms of meditative movements are highly beneficial for body and mind when practiced regularly. Compared to walking or jogging, one advantage is that you con practice them at home. Another advantage is that these movements aren’t “empty” like most Western exercises (meaning that you can practice your squats and pull-ups and at the same time talk to someone beside you) but always expressions of an inner imagination (like in Taijiquan pushing away a virtual opponent). This makes them especially useful in psychosomatic therapy.
    However, there is no need to treat these forms with special veneration. They are made by people like you and me, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t use them and take from them whatever we like and ignore whatever we dislike – and that’s all. Studies like the one you, Edzard, mention to us indeed seem ridiculous. But this should not make us discard the exercises they deal with as well. These exercises are healthy and useful – believe me!
    Dr. med. Hanjo Lehmann, Berlin

    • I certainly am tempted to believe you – yet, I still feel that evidence is better than belief and that health claims must be backed by evidence.

      • Yes, Your Honor, you are certainly right. I confess: Though being a skeptic through and through, I practice some of these movements every day since my time in China (1980–1985) – without any evidence, but just because I like it. As a merry thief, I pick the best movements from different forms, call them “Freegong” and are happy with them.
        Equally, without any further evidence, I try to follow the advice “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, though often instead of the apple with an orange or other fruit. Same thing with emotions: The Beatles taught me “All you need is Love”, and though they gave no evidence, I believe them (silently adding: … “a bit of money is always helpful”). Yes, Your Honor, that’s my problem: Though being a skeptic through and through, I still do the most important things in my life without sufficient evidence.

  • “Lian Gong was developed by Dr. Zhuang Yuan Ming (1919- )” – crumbs!, he must be doing something right! 😉

  • I first encountered Lian Gong in the 1990s, in a booklet produced by the Beijing Sports Medical Institute(? Association? my memory fails me), and was shown how to perform them by my qi gong teacher at the time. I’ve used those exercises which I can remember (i.e., the first set, which aim at reducing neck & shoulder pain & stiffness) successfully when needed, ever since.
    I prefer to put claims around such exercises to a personal test and to see for myself whether they work for me. They do, and have done for the last 20-30 years. Similarly, those people I’ve shown them to have also experienced easing of pain and stiffness.
    I make no claims whether they are equal or superior to other rehab exercises, and I make no claims about the other 5(?) sets of exercises which I can no longer remember and do not practise.

  • I have been doing Lian Gong for many years and it is one of many favorite exercise routines. I cannot comment too much about the claims that are made but I find that it helps to keep me in good shape. I like to do a lot of running and I feel that it is good to do before I run. I prefer Lian Gong to yoga because when I do yoga I tend to injure myself and am less likely to injure myself doing Lian Gong. I do not make any claims about Lian Gong other than to say that it is a very good exercise routine and that it is beneficial for health.

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