Tai chi improves health related quality of life for people with musculoskeletal conditions


Our local Elf leisure centre is advertising Tai Chi sessions and this made me wonder how effective Tai Chi is on quality of life for people with musculoskeletal conditions. This mind-body exercise is often used by people with musculoskeletal conditions as part of a self-management strategy.

A search revealed a new systematic review by a team from China.

Here’s what they did

The authors searched 8 databases for studies that used any types of Tai Chi as the main treatment intervention compared with no treatment, usual care, placebo or any other active treatment. They found 7 randomised single blind controlled trials that included 469 patients with skeletal and muscular system disease suffering from pain and deteriorations in physical function.

Here’s what they found

  • The results of all 7 studies, mainly measured by standarised quality of life questionnaires SF-36 or SF-12, favoured Tai Chi suggesting that Tai Chi may improve quality of life in patients with chronic musculoskeletal conditions.
  • In these studies patients had fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, rhematoid arthritis and osteoporosis.
  • Mean ages of patients were 49.5 to 71.8 years
  • Tai Chi sessions were typically 2-3 times per week for 12 weeks

The Musculoskeletal Elf’s view

The Musculoskeletal ElfThere were several limitations in the studies that were included. The sample size for many studies was small, ranging from 20 to 152, and all studies were non-blind or single-blind. It is important for methodological rigour to ensure that where possible participants, the personnnel delivering interventions and perosnnel assessing the outcomes of interventions are blind to the group participants are allocated to. This helps to minimise any biases in the type and amount of attention participants receive, and objectivity of outcome assessments.

Furthermore in the studies included in this review the outcome measured used were mainly self adminsitered questionnaires and whilst the SF-36 and SF-12 have been used extensively in many large scale studies they have not been adequately validated in populations with long-term musculoskeletal conditions.

Do you or your patients use Tai Chi for self management for musculoskeletal conditions?

Why not send us a comment and become part of the ever expanding Musculoskeletal Elf community and we will know that you are out there….Until next time…remember you can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Do you use Tai Chi to self manage your musculoskeletal conditions?

Do you use Tai Chi to self manage your musculoskeletal conditions?


  • Guichen Li, Hua Yuan, Wei Zhang (2014) Effects of Tai Chi on health related quality of life in patients with chronic conditions: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Complementary therapies in medicine 22 (4) p. 743-755 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25146080
  • Higgins JPT, Altman DG, Sterne JAC (editors). Chapter 8: Assessing risk of bias in included studies. In: Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 (updated March 2011). The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from www.cochrane-handbook.org.
  • Karanicolas PJ, Farrokhyar F, Bhandari M. Blinding: Who, what, when, why, how? Canadian Journal of Surgery 2010;53(5):345-348. 
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Tracey Howe

Hi I am Tracey Howe. I am a Professor of Rehabilitation Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University, UK and Deputy Chair of Glasgow City of Science. I am also an editor for the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Review Group and a convenor for the Cochrane Health Care of Older People Field. I am a Trustee of the Picker Institute Europe. I started my career as a physiotherapist in the National Health Service in England. I have extensive experience of assessing the quality of research in Universities in the UK and internationally. I enjoy strategic visioning, creative problem-solving, and creating vibrant, multi-disciplinary environments, through collaboration, partnerships, and relationships, that empower others to succeed.

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