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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Tai Chi Improves Physical Function

Published September 18, 2015 2:44 PM by Dillon Stickle
Yoga and Pilates are both well known in the therapy world and are often used as a complementary activity for patients with chronic pain and long-term conditions. Not many people, however, use Tai Chi as an example of such exercises - but maybe they should start.

The British Journal of Sports and Medicine published a systematic review on the effects of Tai Chi on four specific chronic conditions: osteoarthritis, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and breast cancer. The study was put together by a team of researchers in the University of British Columbia's Physical Therapy department, located in Vancouver. The idea behind the study was to see if Tai Chi would be a successful activity for easing the symptoms and quality of life for people with one or more of these conditions.

The results were as follows: "Meta-analyses showed that Tai Chi improved or showed a tendency to improve physical performance outcomes, including 6-min walking distance (6MWD) and knee extensor strength, in most or all four chronic conditions. Tai Chi also improved disease-specific symptoms of pain and stiffness in OA [osteoarthritis]."

They concluded that Tai Chi could be used as a safe form of exercise for people with one or multiple chronic conditions, and showed a tendency to improve physical performance in those with said conditions.

PTs, have you ever incorporated Tai Chi for patients with chronic conditions? If so, how do they compare to activities such as yoga or Pilates? If you haven't, would you ever consider using Tai Chi in your practice? Share with us in the comments!

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Since I found out about the wonders of Tia chi for my own personal health benefit, I have incorporated especially the breathing techniques & slower movements into working with my clients in the school setting. We have so many kids with attention & sensory issues, that they often don't breathe & stay in a heightened "fight or flight" response posture. By incorporating breath into yoga postures & as prep to listening to & performing multi-step activities, I see them relaxing & focusing better just like I have learned to do & encourage them to slow down & breathe before initiating activities. I would love to go to a course to see what others have done with it in primarily pediatric patients.

Brenda , Pediatrics - PT , Sumter school district September 25, 2015 5:25 AM
Sumter SC

I became certified as a Tai Chi instructor a year ago as part of a falls prevention program.  I love the benefits that Tai Chi has given my participants--not just in falls prevention and easing the pain of arthritis, but in all of the carry-over into other activities.  Participants start moving more, feeling more confident, feeling less pain, start moving even more, getting healthier, decreasing medication and chronic disease (HTN, COPD, etc).  The benefits have been amazing.  What a huge return on investment.   I'm a believer.

Monica, , Physical Therapist Avista Adventist Hospital September 24, 2015 4:06 PM
Louisville CO

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