Tai Chi Leads to 167-Point Drop in Pain in Knee Osteoarthritis


In knee osteoarthritis, practicing tai chi weekly can be as effective in treating pain as weekly physical therapy.

For individuals with knee osteoarthritis, practicing classical tai chi on a weekly basis can be as effective in treating associated pain as engaging in weekly physical therapy, according to a small study.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 27 percent of Americans live with knee osteoarthritis, and there’s, currently, no effective treatment for it. Identifying effective strategies to reduce the associated pain can improve quality of life and overall functionality.

In a presentation given on Nov. 8 at the 2015 ACR/ARHP annual meeting in San Francisco, Calif., Tufts Medical Center rheumatologist Chenchen Wang, MD, discussed the comparative effectiveness of classical Yang-style Tai Chi and traditional physical therapy in improving pain and quality of life. Previous research has shown both methods are effective, but this is the first study to compare the two directly.

In total, 204 patients participated in the study, and they were randomized into two groups: (1) 12 weeks of classical Yang-style Tai chi, twice weekly and (2) traditional physical therapy twice weekly for six weeks, followed by six weeks of vigorous at-home physical therapy.

“In addition to decreasing pain, we found tai chi offers benefits against depression and improved self-efficacy and quality of life,” she said. “This study exactly identifies what we found before. We’ve replicated our previous results.”

The primary outcome, Wang said, was a reduction in pain. Based on the WOMAC pain scale, participants practicing tai chi experienced a 167-point drop in pain. Physical therapy patients reported a 143-point pain drop. Although researchers had anticipated tai chi would be the superior pain-reduction strategy, she said, in essence, the results were equivalent. Neither method produced any adverse effects, and both led to reduced medication use.



The study was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, National Institutes of Health.


“Comparative Effectiveness of Tai Chi Versus Physical Therapy in Treating Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized, Single-Blind, Trial,” Chenchen Wang, MD, Nov. 8, 2:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.


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