Improve Knee Osteoarthritis with Tai Chi


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“adults with knee osteoarthritis-—the most common joint disease in midlife—saw up to three times greater improvement in both pain and joint function from biweekly hour-long tai chi sessions, compared with those who attended stretching and wellness classes. The flowing, meditative movements tone the muscles surrounding joints, enhance body awareness to reduce risk of injury, and improve alignment.” – Natalie Gingerich


Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative joint disease that is the most common form of arthritis. It produces pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints. It is the leading cause of disability in the U.S., with about 43% of arthritis sufferers limited in mobility and about a third having limitations that affect their ability to perform their work. In the U.S., osteoarthritis affects 14% of adults over 25 years of age and 34% of those over 65.


Knee osteoarthritis is not localized to the cartilage alone but involves the whole joint, including articular cartilage, meniscus, ligament, and peri-articular muscle. It is painful and disabling. While age is a major risk factor for osteoarthritis of the knee, young people are not immune. It effects 5% of adults over 25 years of age and 12% of those over 65. Its causes are varied including, hereditary, injury including sports injuries, repetitive stress injuries, infection, or from being overweight.  There are no cures for knee osteoarthritis. Treatments are primarily symptomatic, including weight loss, exercise, braces, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, arthroscopic knee surgery, or even knee replacement.


Gentle movements of the joints with exercise appears to be helpful in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. This suggests that alternative and complementary practices that involve gentle knee movements may be useful in for treatment. Indeed, yoga practice has been shown to be effective in treating arthritis and mind-body practices in general have been shown to reduce the gene expressions that underlie the inflammatory response which contribute to arthritis. So, it would seem reasonable to look further into the effectiveness of alternative and complementary practices, such as Tai Chi, in treating knee osteoarthritis.


In today’s Research News article “The Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on Improving Mind-Body Health for Knee Osteoarthritis Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Chang and colleagues review the published research literature (11 articles) on the effects of Tai Chi training on the physical and mental issues that accompany knee osteoarthritis. They found that Tai Chi practice significantly improved the physical symptoms of knee osteoarthritis including reduced perceived pain and stiffness, and lessened fear of falling, increased quadriceps muscle strength, enhanced lower extremity strength, improved walking, stair climbing, sitting to standing, and faster getting up and moving.


The mechanism of action for Tai Chi’s effects are not known. But, it could be the gentle slow movements of the knee or the anti-inflammatory effects of Tai Chi that may be responsible. The findings of this meta-analysis suggest that Tai Chi is an effective treatment for the physical effects of knee osteoarthritis. Since Tai Chi is safe, with few, if any, adverse effects, a gentle exercise appropriate for aging individuals, and inexpensive as it can easily be performed at home, and can be readily scaled for large groups without the necessary presence of a therapist, it is almost an ideal treatment.


So, improve knee osteoarthritis with tai chi.


“Tai Chi may be an especially applicable treatment for older adults…The physical component provides exercise consistent with current recommendations…range of motion, flexibility, muscle conditioning and aerobic cardiovascular exercise…the mental component could address the chronic pain state through effects on psychological well-being, life satisfaction, and perceptions of health.” – Mayo Clinic


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Wen-Dien Chang, Shuya Chen, Chia-Lun Lee, Hung-Yu Lin, Ping-Tung Lai. The Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on Improving Mind-Body Health for Knee Osteoarthritis Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016; 2016: 1813979. Published online 2016 Aug 21.



Purpose. To conduct a meta-analysis and systematic review examining whether Tai Chi Chuan could have mental and physical benefits for patients with knee osteoarthritis. Methods. MEDLINE, PUBMED, EMBASE, and CINAHL databases were searched for relevant studies. Data of the studies were collected, and outcomes were classified using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health model. Effect sizes of the mental and physical components were determined, along with the recommendation grades of Philadelphia Panel Classification System for Tai Chi Chuan on knee osteoarthritis. Results. Eleven studies were selected and retrieved from the databases. The results of meta-analysis revealed that the effects of Tai Chi Chuan were observed for physical components in the body functions and structures domain. The effects favoring Tai Chi Chuan were observed in the physical component in the activities and participation domain. Insufficient data was included in the meta-analysis of the mental component.Conclusions. The review revealed that Tai Chi Chuan had beneficial outcomes for patients with knee osteoarthritis. The evidence-based results represented that it had small-to-moderate effects on body functions and structures, activities, and participation of physical component. However, there was insufficient evidence to support that Tai Chi Chuan had beneficial mental effect.


6 thoughts on “Improve Knee Osteoarthritis with Tai Chi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *