Background: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, systemic inflammatory autoimmune disease that results in the destruction of the musculoskeletal system. The major goals of treatment are to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, slow down or stop joint damage, prevent disability, and preserve or improve the person's sense of well-being and ability to function. Tai Chi, interchangeably known as Tai Chi Chuan, is an ancient Chinese health-promoting martial art form that has been recognized in China as an effective arthritis therapy for centuries.
Objectives: To assess the effectiveness and safety of Tai Chi as a treatment for people with RA.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (CCTR), MEDLINE, Pedro and CINAHL databases up to September 2002, using the Cochrane Collaboration search strategy for randomised controlled trials. We also searched the Chinese Biomedical Database up to December 2003 and the Beijing Chinese Academy of Traditional Medicine up to December 2003.
Selection criteria: Randomized controlled trials and controlled clinical trials examining the benefits and harms of exercise programs with Tai Chi instruction or incorporating principles of Tai Chi philosophy were selected. We included control groups who received no therapy, sham therapy or another type of therapy.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers determined the studies to be included in this review, rated the methodological quality and extracted data using standardized forms.
Main results: Four trials including 206 participants, were included in this review. Tai Chi-based exercise programs had no clinically important or statistically significant effect on most outcomes of disease activity, which included activities of daily living, tender and swollen joints and patient global overall rating. For range of motion, Tai Chi participants had statistically significant and clinically important improvements in ankle plantar flexion. No detrimental effects were found. One study found that compared to people who participated in traditional ROM exercise/rest programs those in a Tai Chi dance program reported a significantly higher level of participation in and enjoyment of exercise both immediately and four months after completion of the Tai Chi program.
Reviewers' conclusions: The results suggest Tai Chi does not exacerbate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, Tai Chi has statistically significant benefits on lower extremity range of motion, in particular ankle range of motion, for people with RA. The included studies did not assess the effects on patient-reported pain.