Background/aims: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a serious health problem resulting in significant morbidity and disability. Tai Chi may be beneficial to patients with RA as a result of effects on muscle strength and 'mind-body' interactions. To obtain preliminary data on the effects of Tai Chi on RA, we conducted a pilot randomized controlled trial. Twenty patients with functional class I or II RA were randomly assigned to Tai Chi or attention control in twice-weekly sessions for 12 weeks. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 20 response criterion, functional capacity, health-related quality of life and the depression index were assessed.
Results: At 12 weeks, 5/10 patients (50%) randomized to Tai Chi achieved an ACR 20% response compared with 0/10 (0%) in the control (p = 0.03). Tai Chi had greater improvement in the disability index (p = 0.01), vitality subscale of the Medical Outcome Study Short Form 36 (p = 0.01) and the depression index (p = 0.003). Similar trends to improvement were also observed for disease activity, functional capacity and health-related quality of life. No adverse events were observed and no patients withdrew from the study.
Conclusion: Tai Chi appears safe and may be beneficial for functional class I or II RA. These promising results warrant further investigation into the potential complementary role of Tai Chi for treatment of RA.