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The Health Benefits of Tai Chi Chuan

Tai chi (also T’ai chi ch’uan) is a slowly moving, low impact exercise that can be envisioned as meditation in motion.
Tai chi chuan is literally translated as the “Supreme Ultimate Fist”. It is an internal Chinese martial art that is mostly practised for its health benefits in the Western world.

The possible health benefits of tai chi exercise:

The possible health benefits of tai chi exercise for specific medical conditions:

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Tai Chi for chronic musculoskeletal pain

Question :
Does Tai Chi help patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions such as arthritis? Can Tai Chi decrease pain and disability and improve quality of life and physical function?

Answer :
The authors conclude that Tai Chi has a small positive effect on pain and disability in people with arthritis. It also improved satisfaction with general health.

Summary :
This meta-analysis included seven randomized controlled trials with a total of 321 participants with musculoskeletal pain; six studies on patients with chronic arthritis and one study on patients with chronic tension headaches.
The studies were rated of low quality.

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Tai Chi after a myocardial infaction

Question :
Can Tai Chi reduce blood pressure after an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack)?

Answer :
Tai Chi reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Summary :
Following a myocardial infarction, 126 patients were randomly allocated to Tai Chi, aerobic exercise or a non-exercise support group. The patients were males with an average age 56 years. 38 patients practiced the Wu Chian-Ch’uan style of Tai Chi for 8 weeks (1 hour sessions, twice a week for 3 weeks and then weekly for 5 weeks).
The aerobic exercise group showed decreasing systolic blood pressure over the 11 sessions.
The Tai Chi group showed decreasing systolic and diastolic blood pressure over the 11 sessions.

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Tai Chi and proprioception of ankle and knee joints

Question :
Can Tai Chi improve proprioception at the ankle and knee joints and help with balance control in the elderly?

Answer :
Elderly people who practiced Tai Chi regularly had better proprioception at the ankle and knee joints compared to sedentary controls. They also had  better proprioception at the ankle joint compared to swimmers and runners. Better proprioception may be helpful in maintaining balance control in the elderly.

Summary :
Ankle and knee joint kinaesthesis was measured in 21 elderly long term Tai Chi practitioners, 20 elderly long term swimmers/runners and 27 elderly sedentary controls. The Tai Chi group had an average age of 66.1 years and practiced Tai Chi for approximately 1.5 hours a day.

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Tai Chi and shingles immunity

Question :
Can tai chi exercise give your immune system a boost?

Answer :
In this study, tai chi exercise increased an immunological marker for shingles immunity by nearly 50%.

Summary :
The varicella-zoster virus causes chicken pox and shingles (herpes zoster). The virus remains dormant in the nervous system after a chickenpox infection and can be reactivated years latter as shingles. Shingles is a painful rash with blisters on the skin. Post herpectic neuralgia is a complication of shingles.

36 health adults over 60 years of age were randomly allocated either to the tai chi group or to a waiting-list control group. Tai Chi Chih (a set of 19 movements and 1 pose) was performed for 45 minutes, 3 times a week, for 15 weeks. Immunity to the varicella-zoster virus (VZV-responder cell frequency) was measured at the start of the study and after 16 weeks.

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Tai chi chuan exercise for fibromyalgia

Question :
Can Tai Chi Chuan exercise improve fibromyalgia symptoms and quality of life?

Research Articles :
A randomized trial of tai chi for fibromyalgia.
In this single-blind, randomized trial, 66 patients were randomly assigned to classic Yang-style tai chi or to wellness education and stretching exercises. Tai chi was performed for 60 minutes, twice a week for 12 weeks.
There were clinically important improvements in the tai chi group as measured by the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ), this was the primary outcome measure of this study. Improvement was also seen in physical-component scores and mental-component scores.

A comprehensive review of 46 exercise treatment studies in fibromyalgia (1988-2005).
A review of 46 exercise treatment studies for fibromyalgia (Tai chi exercise is not mentioned). Aerobic exercise was the best treatment for fitness and symptom improvement. The greatest effect and lowest attrition was seen in lower intensity exercise programs.

Effects of T’ai Chi exercise on fibromyalgia symptoms and health-related quality of life.
A pilot study on 39 fibromyalgia patients. Tai chi was performed for 60 minutes, twice a week for 6 weeks. Twenty-one patients completed at least 10 of the 12 exercise sessions. Improvement was seen in quality of life and symptoms.

Answer :
Tai chi exercise can improve fibromyalgia symptoms and quality of life.
A low-impact and low aerobic intensity exercise such as tai chi could have lower attrition rates and greater benefits.
For some patients, starting with 60 minutes of tai chi exercise twice a week may be too demanding.

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Electromyography in Tai Chi

Question :
How does a Tai Chi master move and use his muscles?

Answer :
The hip, knee and ankle joints are bent to maintain an upright posture and a low center of gravity. The anti-gravity muscles (rectus femoris and the medial head of gastrocnemius) are strengthened by eccentric muscle contraction.

Summary :
Electromyographic activities of the lumbar erector spinae, rectus femoris, medial hamstrings, and medial head of gastrocnemius were measured as a Tai Chi master performed a sequence of basic Tai Chi movements.

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Tai Chi and vestibular rehabilitation

Question :
Can Tai Chi be used for vestibular rehabilitation to remedy balance impairment caused by damage to the peripheral vestibular system?

Answer :
Tai Chi improves lower extremity motor control which results in a more vigorous gait and better trunk control.

Summary :
36 older adults (average age of 56.9 years) with vestibulopathy were randomized to either Tai Chi exercise or vestibular rehabilitation. Tai Chi was performed for 70 minutes (including 20 minutes of warm-up exercises), once per week, for 10 weeks. Five Tai Chi movements from Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Yang-style short form were taught in this study.

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Tai Chi and ankylosing spondylitis

Question :
Can tai chi exercise improve disease activity, flexibility and depression in patients with ankylosing spondylitis?

Answer :
Tai Chi improved disease activity and flexibility in patients with ankylosing spondylitis but there was a high drop rate with only 13 patiens in the treatment group.

Summary :
Forty patients were allocated to either a Tai Chi treatment group or to a no-treatment control group. Tai Chi was performed for 60 minutes, twice a week, for 8 weeks and followed by 8 weeks of home practice. This study used the 21 Tai Chi movements based on Tai Chi for Rheumatoid Arthritis (developed by Australian family physician Dr. Paul Lam). Thirteen out of twenty patients in the Tai Chi group completed the study (a 35% dropout rate). The Tai Chi treatment group was composed of 10 men and 3 women with an average age of 35.2 years. The Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Disease Activity Index and the Finger to Floor Distance was improved after 16 weeks in the Tai Chi group. The improvement in depression scores was not statistically significant.

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Tai Chi for tension headaches

Question :
Can Tai Chi improve quality of life measure and reduce tension headaches?

Answer :
Tai Chi improved health-related quality-of-life (HRQOL) scores and reduced headache impact after 15 weeks. There was a high dropout rate in the Tai Chi group.

Summary :
47 participants were randomly assigned to either a program of Tai Chi instruction or a wait-list control group.
The classical Yang style of Tai Chi with 24 movements was taught for an hour, twice a week, for 15 weeks. There were 8 dropouts in the intervention group. The average age of the 13 subjects in the Tai Chi group was 47 years.

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