Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art which incorporates physical exercise and mindfulness. This form of gentle exercise typically combines deep breathing and relaxation techniques with slow, graceful movements. It can be done by individuals or in groups. Because Tai Chi is largely based on technique, it does not require great levels of strength or flexibility. It is used by some people with multiple sclerosis to help with balance, stress relief and general wellbeing.
As a martial art, Tai Chi involves a focus on the spiritual aspects and on meditation. The majority of teaching in the UK tends to deal with the exercise side of Tai Chi. The physical and psychological effects of Tai Chi have been studied in older people and many long-term conditions, including MS. The results have been mixed, this may be because many of the trials have been of low methodological quality – for example the studies have involved small numbers of people, the study protocols have been unclear, or the methods have been flawed.
Despite these flaws, looking at the trials as a whole, Tai Chi has been found to be safe and positive effects have been seen in MS on leg strength, walking, balance, coordination, flexibility, anxiety, depression and pain. However, the benefits of Tai chi on fatigue levels are less clear. Tai Chi also helped promote cardiovascular fitness and the trial participants also reported an increase in life satisfaction.
Tai Chi has also been shown to reduce the risks of falls in older people.
These results suggest that Tai Chi may provide both physical and psychosocial benefits to people with MS, but larger, better designed trials are needed.