Tai Chi

Tai Chi

Common Names

  • Tai Chi Chuan
  • Taiji
  • Tai Ji
  • Tai Chi Quan

For Patients & Caregivers

Tai Chi exercises are effective in relieving pain, improving flexibility, strength, and sleep quality, and reducing fatigue, stress, and the risk of falls in some patients.

Tai Chi combines body movements, meditation and breathing exercises to improve health and well-being. The movements are designed to express the yin and yang components, the basic elements of Chinese medicine in a balanced form. Practitioners believe that disease results when the flow of Qi (internal energy) is blocked and when there is disharmony between the yin and yang forces. Based on traditional Chinese medicine theory, tai chi exercises are thought to result in balancing these forces and promoting the flow of Qi to improve health.

Tai chi practice improves physical functioning in many ways, including improved strength, stamina, muscle tone, agility, flexibility, and sleep quality. Tai chi can also help to reduce stress, pain, and risk of falls, slow bone loss and reduce high blood pressure. The coordinated breathing used in tai chi also helps to improve respiratory function. In turn, all of these benefits improve quality of life, and many of these benefits extend or overlap across various populations such as the frail and elderly, postmenopausal women, and patients with heart disease, fibromyalgia,  Parkinson’s disease, or cancer. Tai chi can be practiced by people of all age groups as the movements are gentle with minimal stress on the body.

  • Balance
    Several studies show that tai chi improves balance which may also help to reduce the risk of falls.
  • Fatigue
    A clinical trial found that a combination tai chi/qigong program reduced fatigue in breast cancer patients.
  • Pain
    This use is supported by clinical trials.
  • Physical Functioning
    Several studies show that tai chi can improve muscle strength, flexibility, stamina, and stable posture in a variety of populations including cancer patients.
  • Consult your doctor before starting tai chi if you are suffering from musculoskeletal injuries.
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For Healthcare Professionals

Tai Chi is an exercise program that uses a sequence of precise body movements, meditation, and synchronized breathing to improve health and well-being. Practitioners believe that disease results when the flow of Qi (internal energy) is blocked and when there is disharmony between the yin and yang forces. Based on traditional Chinese medicine theory, Tai chi exercises are thought to result in balancing these forces and promoting the flow of Qi to improve health. Like most moderate physical activities, tai chi can improve stamina, muscle tone, agility, and flexibility. The coordinated practice of breathing with the exercises may serve a meditative function to reduce stress.

Reviews of clinical trials show that tai chi practice has many benefits including alleviation of pain, and improved flexibility and strength (1) (2). Clinical studies in women showed that tai chi is effective in slowing bone loss (3), reduces multiple fracture-related risks (4), and improves physical functioning (5). Tai chi may improve range of motion in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (6), but more evidence is needed (7). Tai chi improves aerobic capacity in sedentary adults (2), respiratory function in patients with COPD (8) and quality-of-life (QoL) in patients with chronic heart failure (9) (10), reduces hypertension and lipid profile in hypertensive individuals (11), and improves sleep (12) and physical function (13) in elderly individuals. Patients with fibromyalgia reported significant improvements in symptom management and QoL following a tai chi exercise program (14) (15). In patients with Parkinson’s disease (16) and multiple sclerosis (17), tai chi can improve balance and reduce risk of falls. A combination intervention of tai chi, resistance training and diet intervention found significant improvements in measures of mobility in obese older women (18).

Preliminary data suggest that tai chi improves QoL (19) (20) and neuropsychological functioning (21) in cancer survivors. Combination qigong/tai chi exercise programs improved fatigue, depression and sleep dysfunction in breast cancer survivors (22), and a condensed tai chi program was found to be a feasible and acceptable modality for senior cancer survivors (23).

Tai chi can be practiced by people of all age groups and has been found to have a good adherence rate (10) (13) as the movements are gentle and there is a low risk for injury.

  • Balance
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Physical functioning

Improved postural control and walking ability are due to specific features that characterize the tai chi protocol, in which weight shifting and ankle sway move one’s center of gravity toward the limits of stability (16). Alternating narrow and wide stances continually change the base of support, increase support-leg standing and trailing-leg swing time, and encourage rotation of the torso with an upright posture. Forward heel-to-toe and backward toe-to-heel steps strengthen dorsiflexion and plantar flexion, respectively. Changes in measures of mobility are attributed to the improved flexibility and balance produced with regular tai chi practice (18), and are also the mechanisms by which tai chi helps to prevent falls (24). Tai chi particularly appears to alleviate bradykinetic movements associated with Parkinson’s disease by improving gait characteristics such as maximum excursion while reducing deviation in movement (eg, reaching forward to take objects from a cabinet; transitioning from a seated-to-standing and standing-to-seated positions), and markedly increasing gait velocity and stride length (16).

Several studies evaluating biomarker changes with tai chi indicate that the physical aspects of this exercise mediate reductions in both decreased fat mass and IL-2 levels along with increased fat-free mass and IL-6, while the meditative component may also contribute to antiinflammatory effects (25). Declining proinflammatory cytokine IL-2 levels further result in increasing bone formation and metabolism levels (26). Other anti-inflammatory effects include increased superoxide dismutase activity with reduced IL-1β (27). Tai chi may also improve health-related QoL by regulating other inflammatory responses and biomarkers (20).

Patients who suffer from musculoskeletal injuries should consult a physician before starting tai chi.


  1. Klein PJ, Adams WD. Comprehensive therapeutic benefits of Taiji: a critical review. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. Sep 2004;83(9):735-745.

  2. Taylor-Piliae RE, Froelicher ES. Effectiveness of Tai Chi exercise in improving aerobic capacity: a meta-analysis. J Cardiovasc Nurs. Jan-Feb 2004;19(1):48-57.

  3. Wayne PM, Kiel DP, Buring JE, et al. Impact of Tai Chi exercise on multiple fracture-related risk factors in post-menopausal osteopenic women: a pilot pragmatic, randomized trial. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012;12:7. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-12-7

  4. Han A, Robinson V, Judd M, et al. Tai chi for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004(3):CD004849. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004849

  5. Lee MS, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Tai chi for rheumatoid arthritis: systematic review. Rheumatology (Oxford). Nov 2007;46(11):1648-1651. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/kem151

  6. Chan AW, Lee A, Lee DT, et al. The sustaining effects of Tai chi Qigong on physiological health for COPD patients: a randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. Dec 2013;21(6):585-594. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2013.09.008

  7. Yeh GY, Wood MJ, Lorell BH, et al. Effects of tai chi mind-body movement therapy on functional status and exercise capacity in patients with chronic heart failure: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Med. Oct 15 2004;117(8):541-548. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2004.04.016

  8. Yeh GY, McCarthy EP, Wayne PM, et al. Tai chi exercise in patients with chronic heart failure: a randomized clinical trial. Arch Intern Med. Apr 25 2011;171(8):750-757. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.150

  9. Tsai JC, Wang WH, Chan P, et al. The beneficial effects of Tai Chi Chuan on blood pressure and lipid profile and anxiety status in a randomized controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. Oct 2003;9(5):747-754. doi: 10.1089/107555303322524599

  10. Li F, Fisher KJ, Harmer P, et al. Tai chi and self-rated quality of sleep and daytime sleepiness in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. Jun 2004;52(6):892-900. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2004.52255.x

  11. Manor B, Lough M, Gagnon MM, et al. Functional benefits of tai chi training in senior housing facilities. J Am Geriatr Soc. Aug 2014;62(8):1484-1489. doi: 10.1111/jgs.12946

  12. Taggart HM, Arslanian CL, Bae S, et al. Effects of T’ai Chi exercise on fibromyalgia symptoms and health-related quality of life. Orthop Nurs. Sep-Oct 2003;22(5):353-360.

  13. Wang C, Schmid CH, Rones R, et al. A randomized trial of tai chi for fibromyalgia. N Engl J Med. Aug 19 2010;363(8):743-754. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0912611

  14. Li F, Harmer P, Fitzgerald K, et al. Tai chi and postural stability in patients with Parkinson’s disease. N Engl J Med. Feb 9 2012;366(6):511-519. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1107911

  15. Azimzadeh E, Hosseini MA, Nourozi K, et al. Effect of Tai Chi Chuan on balance in women with multiple sclerosis. Complement Ther Clin Pract. Nov 27 2014. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2014.09.002

  16. Maris SA, Quintanilla D, Taetzsch A, et al. The combined effects of tai chi, resistance training, and diet on physical function and body composition in obese older women. J Aging Res. 2014;2014:657851. doi: 10.1155/2014/657851

  17. Mustian KM, Katula JA, Gill DL, et al. Tai Chi Chuan, health-related quality of life and self-esteem: a randomized trial with breast cancer survivors. Support Care Cancer. Dec 2004;12(12):871-876. doi: 10.1007/s00520-004-0682-6

  18. Sprod LK, Janelsins MC, Palesh OG, et al. Health-related quality of life and biomarkers in breast cancer survivors participating in tai chi chuan. J Cancer Surviv. Jun 2012;6(2):146-154. doi: 10.1007/s11764-011-0205-7

  19. Reid-Arndt SA, Matsuda S, Cox CR. Tai Chi effects on neuropsychological, emotional, and physical functioning following cancer treatment: a pilot study. Complement Ther Clin Pract. Feb 2012;18(1):26-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2011.02.005

  20. Larkey LK, Roe DJ, Weihs KL, et al. Randomized Controlled Trial of Qigong/Tai Chi Easy on Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors. Ann Behav Med. Aug 15 2014. doi: 10.1007/s12160-014-9645-4

  21. Campo RA, O’Connor K, Light KC, et al. Feasibility and acceptability of a Tai Chi Chih randomized controlled trial in senior female cancer survivors. Integr Cancer Ther. Nov 2013;12(6):464-474. doi: 10.1177/1534735413485418

  22. Janelsins MC, Davis PG, Wideman L, et al. Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on insulin and cytokine levels in a randomized controlled pilot study on breast cancer survivors. Clin Breast Cancer. Jun 2011;11(3):161-170. doi: 10.1016/j.clbc.2011.03.013

  23. Peppone LJ, Mustian KM, Janelsins MC, et al. Effects of a structured weight-bearing exercise program on bone metabolism among breast cancer survivors: a feasibility trial. Clin Breast Cancer. Jun 2010;10(3):224-229. doi: 10.3816/CBC.2010.n.030

  24. Mendoza-Nunez VM, Hernandez-Monjaraz B, Santiago-Osorio E, et al. Tai Chi exercise increases SOD activity and total antioxidant status in saliva and is linked to an improvement of periodontal disease in the elderly. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014;2014:603853. doi: 10.1155/2014/603853

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