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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 publication




Journal article


Phys Ther

Publication Date





227 - 238


Arthritis, Chronic Pain, Humans, Low Back Pain, Musculoskeletal Pain, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Tai Ji, Tension-Type Headache