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Tai chi found to have added value as compared to standard PT for individuals with osteoarthritis of the knee

A recently released, randomized study out of Western and McMaster Universities found that tai chi offered in group classes two times a week had equivalent benefits in pain management and improved function as compared to standard physical therapy. However, there was evidence of added value in terms of improvement in quality of life measures among the tai chi group. Over 200 individuals participated in the study.

This study supports beliefs of the therapeutic value of tai chi performed as qigong (therapeutic tai chi). While cost benefit was not the major focus of the study, results suggest that community-based tai chi group classes may be more cost effective and added a valuable alternative to the standard practice of referral to physical therapy for management of knee pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Ann Intern Med. 2016 May 17. doi: 10.7326/M15-2143. [Epub ahead of print]
Comparative Effectiveness of Tai Chi Versus Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Trial.
Wang C, Schmid CH, Iversen MD, Harvey WF, Fielding RA, Driban JB, Price LL, Wong JB, Reid KF, Rones R, McAlindon T.
Abstract
Background:
Few remedies effectively treat long-term pain and disability from knee osteoarthritis. Studies suggest that Tai Chi alleviates symptoms, but no trials have directly compared Tai Chi with standard therapies for osteoarthritis.
Objective:
To compare Tai Chi with standard physical therapy for patients with knee osteoarthritis.
Design:
Randomized, 52-week, single-blind comparative effectiveness trial. (ClinicalTrials.gov:NCT01258985).
Setting:
An urban tertiary care academic hospital.
Patients:
204 participants with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis (mean age 60 years; 70% women; 53% white).
Intervention:
Tai Chi (2 times per week for 12 weeks) or standard physical therapy (2 times per week for 6 weeks, followed by 6 weeks of monitored home exercise).
Measurements:
The primary outcome was Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) score at 12 weeks. Secondary outcomes included physical function, depression, medication use, and quality of life.
Results:
At 12 weeks, the WOMAC score was substantially reduced in both groups (Tai Chi, 167 points [95% CI, 145 to 190 points]; physical therapy, 143 points [CI, 119 to 167 points]). The between-group difference was not significant (24 points [CI, -10 to 58 points]). Both groups also showed similar clinically significant improvement in most secondary outcomes, and the benefits were maintained up to 52 weeks. Of note, the Tai Chi group had significantly greater improvements in depression and the physical component of quality of life. The benefit of Tai Chi was consistent across instructors. No serious adverse events occurred.
Limitation:
Patients were aware of their treatment group assignment, and the generalizability of the findings to other settings remains undetermined.
Conclusion:
Tai Chi produced beneficial effects similar to those of a standard course of physical therapy in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.
Primary Funding Source:
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health of the National Institutes of Health.

PMID: 27183035