Objective: To determine the effect of tai chi exercise on persistent low back pain.
Methods: We performed a randomized controlled trial in a general community setting in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Participants consisted of 160 volunteers between ages 18 and 70 years with persistent nonspecific low back pain. The tai chi group (n = 80) consisted of 18 40-minute sessions over a 10-week period delivered in a group format by a qualified instructor. The waitlist control group continued with their usual health care. Bothersomeness of back symptoms was the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes included pain intensity and pain-related disability. Data were collected at pre- and postintervention and analyzed by intent-to-treat.
Results: Tai chi exercise reduced bothersomeness of back symptoms by 1.7 points on a 0-10 scale, reduced pain intensity by 1.3 points on a 0-10 scale, and improved self-report disability by 2.6 points on the 0-24 Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire scale. The followup rate was >90% for all outcomes. These results were considered a worthwhile treatment effect by researchers and participants.
Conclusion: This is the first pragmatic randomized controlled trial of tai chi exercise for people with low back pain. It showed that a 10-week tai chi program improved pain and disability outcomes and can be considered a safe and effective intervention for those experiencing long-term low back pain symptoms.
Copyright © 2011 by the American College of Rheumatology.