Tai Chi

Also known by these names

  • Tai chi chuan
  • Taiji

Tai chi is a form of traditional Chinese martial art, mind-body exercise and meditation. With slow, graceful  sets of body movements and controlled breathing, tai chi is practiced to improve balance, flexibility, muscle strength and overall health.1 Many individual styles of tai chi have evolved.2

Key Points

  • Tai chi is a form of traditional Chinese martial art, mind-body exercise and meditation.
  • Tai chi is practiced to improve balance, flexibility, muscle strength and overall health.
  • BCCT is interested in evidence associating tai chi with improvements in fatigue, sleep difficulty, depression, quality of life and pain management.
  • Tai chi movements are low-impact, making its practice generally safe for patients. A few medical conditions may warrant caution.
  • Tai chi is widely available as classes, on video or online.

Clinical Practice Guidelines

2009 evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for integrative oncology conclude that therapies based on a philosophy of bioenergy fields are safe and may provide some benefit for reducing stress and enhancing quality of life. Only limited evidence is available regarding their efficacy for symptom management, including reducing pain and fatigue. The Society for Integrative Oncology gives a strong recommendation for these therapies:3

  • For reducing anxiety: grade 1B (strong recommendation, moderate-quality evidence)
  • For pain, fatigue, and other symptom management: grade 1C (strong recommendation, low- or very low-quality evidence)

Managing Side Effects and Promoting Wellness

Managing or relieving side effects or symptoms, reducing treatment toxicity, supporting quality of life or promoting general well-being

How Does Tai Chi Differ from Qigong ?

The follow summary draws from Tai Chi Society,4 The Qigong Institute,5 and Livestrong.com.6

The qi (also spelled chi) is “the life energy that flows through the body’s energy pathways.” Tai chi and qigong both cultivate the qi by combining movement, breathing and meditation.

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A 2017 review and meta-analysis of 22 studies involving both tai chi and qigong (another movement and meditation therapy) found significant improvement in these areas after three to 12 weeks of training and practice:7

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Cautions

Tai chi movements are low impact, putting minimal stress on muscles and joints. Tai chi practice is generally safe for all ages and fitness levels. A few medical conditions may require caution, as listed on the Mayo Clinic website: women who are pregnant or people with joint problems, back pain, fractures, severe osteoporosis or a hernia should consult their healthcare providers. Because tai chi involves very little risk and is associated with improved cancer symptoms and quality of life, many practitioners are comfortable recommending it for patients.

Access

Tai chi is widely available as classes, on video or online. Many hospitals, wellness centers and other health-related facilities offer tai chi classes.

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.

Non-cancer Uses of Tai Chi

BCCT has not reviewed the effectiveness of this therapy for non-cancer uses.

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Fall prevention
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Joint pain
  • Menopause symptoms
  • Osteoporosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke prevention

Written by Nancy Hepp, MS, and reviewed by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS; most recent update on June 13, 2019. Note: BCCT has not conducted an independent review of research of tai chi. This summary draws from CAM-Cancer, the Mayo Clinic and other sources as noted.

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