What is it?
Tai chi is a Chinese martial art consisting of exercise, breathing, and meditation. Tai chi is a specific form of Qi gong.
Tai chi is not regulated in any way and there are no specific standards for training. Practitioners of tai chi are not considered health professionals in North America. However, in China, tai chi is often practiced along with conventional modern medicine.
Tai chi is used for improving general health, preventing falls, and for many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
Possibly Effective for …
- Athletic performance. Most research shows that practicing tai chi seems to improve fitness levels.
- Back pain. Early research shows that tai chi can reduce low back pain by a small to moderate amount. Some doctors recommend that people with long-term low back pain try exercises like tai chi before trying to take pain medications.
- Fall prevention. While some conflicting results exist, most research shows that tai chi helps prevent falls in older adults. The style of tai chi and the frequency of exercise appear to influence the effect of tai chi. Yang style tai chi seems to prevent falls in older adults slightly more than Sun style tai chi. A specific type of tai chi called Tai Ji Quan Moving for Better Balance (TJQMMB) also seems to prevent falls better than other exercises such as stretching. Practicing tai chi more than three times per week seems to prevent falls better than practicing tai chi only once weekly.
- Fibromyalgia. Some research shows that practicing tai chi can improve symptoms of fibromyalgia by a small amount, such as pain and fatigue. It also seems to improve quality of life. Tai chi seems to work as well as exercise for improving function and pain.
- Heart failure. Most research shows that practicing tai chi helps people with heart failure walk farther.
- High blood pressure. Research shows that practicing tai chi for 6-12 weeks can reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure by about as much as general exercise.
- Osteoarthritis. Most research suggests that practicing tai chi up to 3 times per week improves function, stiffness, and pain, in people with osteoarthritis.
- Physical performance. Research shows that tai chi can improve how elderly people who are inactive or frail feel about their physical function. This includes their ability to get around without help. Research also shows that tai chi might improve leg strength, balance, and flexibility in elderly people who are inactive. But not all research agrees.
Insufficient Evidence to Make a Determination for …
- Decline in memory and thinking skills that occurs normally with age. Early research shows that practicing tai chi for up to 12 months may slightly improve thinking skills in elderly people who show signs of slight mental decline.
- Asthma. Early research in children with asthma shows that practicing tai chi might reduce asthma attacks.
- Autism. Early research shows that tai chi seems to improve balance and movement coordination in children with autism.
- Breast cancer. Early research suggests that practicing tai chi three times a week might improve self-esteem in people with breast cancer. Also, tai chi might improve feelings of tiredness and flexibility and overall life quality.
- Tiredness in people with cancer. Practicing tai chi seems to improve tiredness in people with cancer in the short term, but not in the long term. Tai chi seems to work better than exercise and mental support to relieve tiredness in people with cancer.
- Decline in memory and thinking skills in older people that is more than what is normal for their age.. Early research shows that tai chi does not reduce decline in memory and thinking skills in elderly people who have increased mental decline.
- A lung disease that makes it harder to breathe (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD). Early research shows that tai chi can help people with COPD walk farther. Tai chi might also improve lung function in people with this condition. A shorter tai chi style also seems to help people with COPD to walk and improve their health. But tai chi doesn’t seem to improve quality of life or reduce shortness of breath in people with COPD.
- Memory and thinking skills (cognitive function). Early research shows that tai chi might improve learning, memory, and thinking skills related to behavior in elderly people who are healthy.
- Surgery to improve blood flow to the heart (CABG surgery). Early research suggests that practicing tai chi up to 5 times weekly for a year might improve fitness in people that have had CABG surgery.
- Heart disease. Early research shows that practicing tai chi seems to improve exercise ability in people with heart disease.
- Depression. Early research shows that practicing tai chi might improve symptoms in some people with major depression.
- Diabetes. Most early research shows that tai chi does not improve blood sugar control or insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.
- HIV/AIDS. Early research suggests that practicing tai chi once or twice weekly might improve quality of life and anxiety in people with HIV/AIDS.
- Insomnia. Early research shows that tai chi can improve the quality and length of sleep in people with sleep complaints who are not diagnosed with insomnia. It is not clear if tai chi helps people who have been diagnosed with insomnia to sleep better.
- A grouping of symptoms that increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke (metabolic syndrome). Early research shows that tai chi might improve blood pressure, but not lipid or sugar levels, in people with this condition.
- Obesity. Some research shows that tai chi may reduce body mass index in overweight and obese people.
- Weak and brittle bones (osteoporosis). It is not known if tai chi can help prevent fractures in people with osteoporosis. There is also conflicting evidence about whether tai chi can improve bone thickness.
- Parkinson disease. Tai chi might help prevent symptoms from becoming worse in people with Parkinson disease who are also taking medication. Tai chi might also improve balance and prevent falls in these people.
- Recovery after surgery. Early research shows that practicing tai chi might improve function and walking, but not pain or flexibility, after knee replacement surgery.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Early research suggests that practicing tai chi might reduce tiredness, joint pain, and swelling, and improve mood and balance, in people with RA. But not all research agrees.
- Stress. Early research shows that tai chi might decrease stress and improve wellbeing in stressed adults. Tai chi might also reduce negative emotions such as anxiety and depression in healthy adults.
- Stroke. Early research shows that tai chi seems to improve gait in people who have had a stroke. Tai might also improve balance in these people.
- Tension headache. Early research suggests that practicing tai chi twice weekly might improve headache pain, fatigue, social function, and emotions in people with tension-type headaches.
- Injury to the brain, spine, or nerves (neurological trauma). Early research shows that practicing tai chi twice weekly might improve mood, but does not improve recovery, in people that have had a traumatic brain injury. Additional research shows that adding tai chi to usual treatment in people after spinal cord injury might improve hand grip and sitting balance.
- Inner ear problems affecting balance (vestibulopathy). Early research suggests that practicing tai chi once per week might help with stability in people who have imbalance due to inner ear problems.
- Improving digestion.
- Improving general health.
- Promoting relaxation.
- Strengthening and conditioning muscles.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate tai chi for these uses.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There isn’t enough information to know whether tai chi is safe during pregnancy and breast-feeding. If you are pregnant, check with your healthcare provider before starting tai chi or any other exercise program.
There are many different styles of tai chi. Some styles may be better for certain conditions. For example, Yang style tai chi appears to work better than Sun style tai chi for fall prevention.
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