What is the efficacy of tai chi in the treatment of osteoarthritis (OA)?

Updated: Oct 12, 2020
  • Author: Carlos J Lozada, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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A prospective, single-blind, randomized, controlled study by Wang et al suggested that tai chi is a potentially effective treatment for pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee. [125] In this trial, 40 patients with symptomatic tibiofemoral osteoarthritis who performed 60 minutes of tai chi twice weekly for 12 weeks experienced significantly greater pain reduction than did control subjects who underwent 12 weeks of wellness education and stretching.

The mean difference in Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) pain scores was −118.80 mm. [125] The tai chi cohort also had significantly better WOMAC physical function scores, patient and physician global visual analog scale scores, chair stand times, Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale scores, self-efficacy scores, and Short Form 36 physical component summaries.

A subsequent trial by Wang et al that compared tai chi (2 times per week for 12 weeks) with standard physical therapy (2 times per week for 6 weeks, followed by 6 weeks of monitored home exercise), reported substantial and comparable reductions in WOMAC scores in both patient groups, as well as similar clinically significant improvement in most secondary outcomes, and the benefits were maintained up to 52 weeks. Furthermore, the tai chi group had significantly greater improvements in depression and the physical component of quality of life. [126]

A systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that research results are encouraging and suggest that tai chi may be effective in controlling pain and improving physical function in patients with knee osteoarthritis. [127] The researchers noted, however, that the strength of the evidence is limited by the small number of randomized, controlled trials with a low risk of bias.

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