Effectiveness of tai chi for chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions: updated systematic review and meta-analysis

Amanda Hall*, Bethan Copsey, Helen Richmond, Jacqueline Thompson, Manuela Ferreira, Jane Latimer, Chris G. Maher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Tai chi is recommended for musculoskeletal conditions; however, the evidence for its clinical effectiveness is uncertain. Purpose. The aim of this study was to determine whether tai chi is beneficial for clinical outcomes in people with musculoskeletal pain. Data Sources. Seven databases were searched: Embase, PEDro, AMED, MEDLINE, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials. Study Selection. Randomized controlled trials of tai chi for people with a chronic musculoskeletal condition were included. Data Extraction: Two reviewers extracted data and rated risk of bias. Standardized mean differences (SMDs) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated for individual trials and pooled effect sizes were calculated using a random-effects model. Data Synthesis. Fifteen studies were identified; these studies included people with osteoarthritis (80%), back pain (13%), and headache (7%). Using the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation) approach, moderate-quality evidence was found that tai chi was more effective than no treatment or usual care at short term on pain (SMD= -0.66 [95% CI= -0.85, -0.48]) and disability (SMD= -0.66 [95% CI= -0.85, -0.46]). The evidence for other outcomes was of low or very low quality and there was little information regarding long-term effects. Thus, although the number of publications in this area has increased, the rigor has not, hindering physical therapists’ ability to provide reliable recommendations for clinical practice. Limitations: The evidence provided in this review is limited by trials with small sample sizes, low methodological quality, and lack of long-term assessment. Conclusions: In order for tai chi to be recommended as an effective intervention, more high-quality trials with large sample sizes assessing tai chi versus other evidence-based treatments at short term and at long term are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-238
Number of pages12
JournalPhysical Therapy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017
Externally publishedYes


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