Continued growth in tai chi

14 June 2021

An updated bibliometric review reveals a tripling of published clinical studies on tai chi compared to the past decade, reporting on the benefits of tai chi for health and wellbeing.

The international team of researchers led by Sydney’s NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University analysed data from 987 tai chi clinical trials published over the last 10 years from January 2010 and January 2020.

The top 10 diseases and or conditions the studies focused on were tai chi for hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, knee osteoarthritis, heart failure, depression, osteoporosis/osteopenia, breast cancer, coronary heart disease and insomnia.

Across the clinical studies, physical performance outcomes such as strength, balance, cardiopulmonary function were most commonly evaluated (76.2%), followed by psychological outcomes such as stress, depression, mood (23.6%), symptoms such as pain and fatigue (23.3%), and quality of life (using generic or disease-specific measures) (21.6%).

Less common were health-related events such as falls, fracture, angina, stroke, hospitalisation, death (8.3%), safety and or adverse events (7.2%), compliance and adherence (2.5%), cognitive function (2.3%), satisfaction with tai chi (1.4%), and sleep quality (1%).

Most primary studies (94.9%) reported at least one positive result in favour of tai chi, while 3% of studies reported no beneficial effects, and in 2% of studies the evidence was insufficient to make a conclusion.

Consistent with the researchers’ previous bibliometric review, over half of the studies were conducted in China and published in Chinese language and the most investigated diseases and or conditions aligned those that most commonly impacted middle age and older adults. Study participants were mostly in the adult (55.2%) and or older adult (72.0%) age groups.

“Our last bibliometric review in 2015 looked at about 500 clinical studies from 1958 to 2013. With this update we wanted to map the general trends and characteristics of clinical studies on tai chi from the last decade – what volume there was and the breadth as well as identify any gaps and priorities for further clinical research” said lead author and postdoctoral research fellow, Dr Guoyan Emily Yang, NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University.

“The data tells us there is a continuing growth in clinical studies on tai chi, as well as a growth in the number of countries conducting research, seeing an increase of 10 additional countries, making 31 in total.

“However, there is wide variation in the information reported, reducing confidence in the existing evidence, which could be improved with specific guidance in the reporting of tai chi clinical studies.

“While this is a comprehensive review we also need to look across wider databases outside of English and Chinese to evaluate other countries and languages conducting research on tai chi, which will be our next focus area to investigate,” said Dr Yang.

The review involved researchers from Western Sydney University, Macquarie University; Cardiac Health Institute; Harvard University; Beijing University of Chinese Medicine; Inner Mongolia Medical University; Mashhad University of Medical Sciences Iran; Macau University of Science and Technology; Capital Medical University; and Yunnan Minzu University.

Read the full report, Tai chi for health and wellbeing: A bibliometric analysis of published clinical studies between 2010 and 2020, in Complementary Therapies in Medicine at (opens in a new window)