Tai Chi and Physical Therapy

We tend to think of Western versus Eastern medicine; that the two are mutually exclusive. However, some people are beginning to integrate and or compare and contrast the two. The Research Centre on Aging at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada implemented a study that compared Tai Chi and Physical Therapy (conventional physiotherapy) when it comes to fall-prevention. This was in response to a discovery that supervised Tai Chi has a better outcome on fall-prevention than conventional physiotherapy. The purpose was to try and explain the possible causes of this discovery.


152 older adults over 65 years old participated in the study. These older adults were admitted to a geriatric program at a Canadian University. They had to have a high risk of falling, had suffered a fall within the previous six months, presented with physical disabilities and mentally able to participate in an exercise program. The participants were randomly assigned to either a physiotherapy or Tai Chi group.


The physiotherapy group received one-on-one therapy which included weight transfer, strengthening and walking, all of which was adapted to each participant’s condition. Meanwhile, the Tai Chi participants performed a “sequence involving: turning, weight shifting, leg bending and extension, single-leg stand- ing and various arm movements.” They were also instructed on the Tai Chi principles of “body awareness, relaxation and breathing. A personalized approach was taken to adapt the movements to the participants’ condition and to ensure their safety.” Unlike the physiotherapy group, the Tai Chi group worked in groups of 2-4.


The study focused on outcomes of: balance, gait, fear of falling, functional autonomy, self-actualization and self-efficacy. The participants were assessed at the beginning of the study, after 15 weeks and one year after participation in the Tai Chi or physiotherapy. The 1-year followed up was performed by a third party that was blind to the group assignments of the participants.


The results of this study showed that both Tai Chi and physiotherapy improved the outcome of falls but only Tai Chi was successful in reducing the incidence of falls. Both Tai Chi and physiotherapy improved balance, gait, fear of falling, self-actualization and improved functional autonomy. Therefore, greater self-efficacy appears to be the distinguishing benefit of Tai Chi in fall prevention when compared to physiotherapy. Self-efficacy is not a part of conventional physiotherapy.


Self-efficacy was measured on a scale called the GSES which, “assesses a general sense of perceived self- efficacy with the aim of predicting coping with daily hassles as well as adaptation after experiencing all kinds of stressful life events. Self-efficacy is positively related to extraversion, failure or action orientation, decision or action orientation, and hope of success, but negatively related to fear of failure.”


Keep in mind though, that this study was limited to older adults at a geriatric hospital. It would be beneficial to performer larger studies with a more diverse group of participants. As always, follow your medical professional’s advice and consult with him/her before changing your treatment or beginning a Tai Chi regimen.


However, this study does show us that including Tai Chi in a rehabilitation program can be just as, if not more successful than a conventional physiotherapy program. Troyce’s latest Tai Chi for health DVD, Tai Chi for Strength and Balance actually includes segments with professionals in the physical therapy profession. You may read more about the DVD and purchase it here.




By: Michel Tousignant, hélène Corriveau, Pierre-Michel Roy, Johanne Desrosiers, Nicole Dubuc, Réjean hébert, Valérie Tremblay-boudreault & audrée-Jeanne beaudoin.
Research Centre on Aging, Sherbrooke Geriatric University Institute, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Canada.
Disability & Rehabilitation, 2012; 34(3): 196–201 Copyright © 2012 Informa UK, Ltd.
ISSN 0963-8288 print/ISSN 1464-5165 online
DOI: 10.3109/09638288.2011.591891
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