What do we really know about the safety of tai chi?: A systematic review of adverse event reports in randomized trials

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2014 Dec;95(12):2470-83. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2014.05.005. Epub 2014 May 27.


Objective: To systematically review the frequency and quality of adverse event (AE) reports in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of tai chi (TC).

Data sources: Electronic searches of PubMed/MEDLINE and additional databases from inception through March 2013 of English-language RCTs. Search terms included tai chi, taiji, and tai chi chuan. Data were independently extracted by 2 investigators.

Study selection: We included all available RCTs that were published in English and used TC as an intervention. Inclusion and exclusion criteria of studies were reported in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines.

Data extraction: Eligible RCTs were categorized with respect to AE reporting: no mention of protocol for monitoring AEs or reports of AEs, and reports of AEs either with or without explicit protocol for monitoring AEs.

Data synthesis: There were 153 eligible RCTs identified; most targeted older adults. Only 50 eligible trials (33%) included reporting of AEs; of these, only 18 trials (12% overall) also reported an explicit AE monitoring protocol. Protocols varied with respect to the rigor of systematic monitoring in both the TC and comparison groups. Reported AEs were typically minor and expected and primarily musculoskeletal related (eg, knee and back pain); no intervention-related serious AEs were reported.

Conclusions: TC is unlikely to result in serious AEs, but it may be associated with minor musculoskeletal aches and pains. However, poor and inconsistent reporting of AEs greatly limits the conclusions that can be drawn regarding the safety of TC.

Keywords: Exercise; Mind-body therapies; Rehabilitation; Safety.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Patient Safety*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Rehabilitation / methods
  • Research Design / standards*
  • Tai Ji / adverse effects*