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Tai Chi and Qi Gong: In Depth

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What’s the Bottom Line?

How much do we know about tai chi and qi gong?

Several clinical trials have evaluated the effects of tai chi and qi gong in people with various health conditions.

What do we know about the effectiveness of tai chi and qi gong?

Practicing tai chi may help to improve balance and stability in older people and in those with Parkinson’s disease, reduce back pain and pain from knee osteoarthritis, and improve quality of life in people with heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses. Tai chi and qi gong may ease fibromyalgia pain and promote general quality of life. Qi gong may reduce chronic neck pain, but study results are mixed. Tai chi also may improve reasoning ability in older people.

What do we know about the safety of tai chi and qi gong?

Tai chi and qi gong appear to be safe practices.

What Are Tai Chi and Qi Gong?

Tai chi and qi gong are centuries-old, related mind and body practices. They involve certain postures and gentle movements with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation. The movements can be adapted or practiced while walking, standing, or sitting. In contrast to qi gong, tai chi movements, if practiced quickly, can be a form of combat or self-defense.

What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Tai Chi and Qi Gong

Research findings suggest that practicing tai chi may improve balance and stability in older people and those with Parkinson’s, reduce pain from knee osteoarthritis, help people cope with fibromyalgia and back pain, and promote quality of life and mood in people with heart failure and cancer. There's been less research on the effects of qi gong, but some studies suggest it may reduce chronic neck pain (although results are mixed) and pain from fibromyalgia. Qi gong also may help to improve general quality of life.

Both also may offer psychological benefits, such as reducing anxiety. However, differences in how the research on anxiety was conducted make it difficult to draw firm conclusions about this.

What the Science Says About Safety of Tai Chi and Qi Gong

Tai chi and qi gong appear to be safe practices. One NCCIH-supported review noted that tai chi is unlikely to result in serious injury but it may be associated with minor aches and pains. Women who are pregnant should talk with their health care providers before beginning tai chi, qi gong, or any other exercise program.

Training, Licensing, and Certification

Tai chi instructors don’t have to be licensed, and the practice isn't regulated by the Federal Government or individual states. There’s no national standard for qi gong certification. Various tai chi and qi gong organizations offer training and certification programs—with differing criteria and levels of certification for instructors.

More To Consider

  • Learning tai chi or qi gong from a video or book does not ensure that you’re doing the movements correctly or safely.
  • Ask a trusted source (such as your health care provider) to recommend a tai chi or qi gong instructor. Find out about the training and experience of any instructor you're considering.
  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

For More Information

NCCIH Clearinghouse

The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

Toll-free in the U.S.: 1-888-644-6226

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1-866-464-3615

Website: https://nccih.nih.gov/

Email: info@nccih.nih.gov (link sends e-mail)

NIH Senior Health

A service of the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), NIHSeniorHealth provides health and wellness information, including complementary health approaches, for older adults.

PubMed®

A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed.

Website: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

NIH Clinical Research Trials and You

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created a website, NIH Clinical Research Trials and You, to help people learn about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to participate. The site includes questions and answers about clinical trials, guidance on how to find clinical trials through ClinicalTrials.gov and other resources, and stories about the personal experiences of clinical trial participants. Clinical trials are necessary to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.

Website: https://www.nih.gov/health-information/nih-clinical-research-trials-you

Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools Expenditures & Results (RePORTER)

RePORTER is a database of information on federally funded scientific and medical research projects being conducted at research institutions.

Website: https://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm

Key References

  • Gillespie LD, Robertson MC, Gillespie WJ, et al. Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. 2012;(9):CD007146 [edited 2015]. Accessed at http://www.thecochrane library.com on July 29, 2015.
  • Hall AM, Maher CG, Lam P, et al. Tai chi exercise for treatment of pain and disability in people with persistent low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Arthritis Care &amp Research. 2011;63(11):1576–1583.
  • Jahnke R, Larkey L, Rogers C, et al. A comprehensive review of health benefits of qigong and tai chi. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2010;24(6):e1–e25.
  • Jones KD, Sherman CA, Mist SD, et al. A randomized controlled trial of 8-form tai chi improves symptoms and functional mobility in fibromyalgia patients. Clinical Rheumatology. 2012;31(8):1205–1214.
  • Kendrick D, Kumar A, Carpenter H, et al. Exercise for reducing fear of falling in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. 2014;(11):CD009848. Accessed at http://www.thecochrane library.com on July 29, 2015.
  • Li F, Harmer P, Fitzgerald K, et al. Tai chi and postural stability in patients with Parkinson’s disease. New England Journal of Medicine. 2012;366(6):511–519.
  • Li F, Harmer P, Liu Y, et al. A randomized controlled trial of patient-reported outcomes with tai chi exercise in Parkinson’s disease. Movement Disorders. 2014;29(4):539–545.
  • Lynch M, Sawynok J, Hiew C, et al. A randomized controlled trial of qigong for fibromyalgia. Arthritis Research & Therapy. 2012;14(4):R178.
  • Nery RM, Zanini M, de Lima JB, et al. Tai chi chuan improves functional capacity after myocardial infarction: a randomized clinical trial. American Heart Journal. 2015;169(6):854–860.
  • Oh B, Butow P, Mullan B, et al. Impact of medical qigong on quality of life, fatigue, mood and inflammation in cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial. Annals of Oncology. 2010;21(3):608–614.
  • Rendant D, Pach D, Lüdtke R, et al. Qigong versus exercise versus no therapy for patients with chronic neck pain: a randomized controlled trial. Spine. 2011;36(6):419–427.
  • von Trott P, Wiedemann AM, Lüdtke R, et al. Qigong and exercise therapy for elderly patients with chronic neck pain (QIBANE): a randomized controlled study. Journal of Pain. 2009;10(5):501–508.
  • Wang C. Tai chi and rheumatic diseases. Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America. 2011;37(1):19–32.
  • Wang C, Bannuru R, Ramel J, et al. Tai chi on psychological well-being: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2010;10:23.
  • Wang C, Schmid CH, Hibberd PL, et al. Tai chi is effective in treating knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial. Arthritis and Rheumatism. 2009;61(11):1545–1553.
  • Wang C, Schmid CH, Rones R, et al. A randomized trial of tai chi for fibromyalgia. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010;363(8):743–754.
  • Wayne PM, Berkowitz DL, Litrownik DE, et al. What do we really know about the safety of tai chi? A systematic review of adverse event reports in randomized trials. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2014;95(12):2470–2483.
  • Wayne PM, Walsh JN, Taylor-Piliae RE, et al. The impact of tai chi on cognitive performance in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2014;62(1):25–39.
  • Yan J-H, Gu W-J, Sun J, et al. Efficacy of tai chi on pain, stiffness and function in patients with osteoarthritis: a meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2013;8(4):e61672.
  • Yeh GY, McCarthy EP, Wayne PM, et al. Tai chi exercise in patients with chronic heart failure: a randomized clinical trial. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2011;171(8):750–757.

Acknowledgments

NCCIH thanks the following people for their technical expertise and review of the content update of this publication: Kim D. Jones, R.N.C., Ph.D., Oregon Health & Science University; Chenchen Wang, M.D. M.Sc., Tufts-New England Medical Center; Peter M. Wayne, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School; and Partap S. Khalsa, D.C., Ph.D., and David Shurtleff, Ph.D., NCCIH.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

Last Updated: October 2016