The Effects of Tai Chi and Neck Exercises in the Treatment of Chronic Nonspecific Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial

J Pain. 2016 Sep;17(9):1013-27. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2016.06.004. Epub 2016 Jun 23.


This study aimed to test the efficacy of Tai Chi for treating chronic neck pain. Subjects with chronic nonspecific neck pain were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of group Tai Chi or conventional neck exercises with weekly sessions of 75 to 90 minutes, or a wait-list control. The primary outcome measure was pain intensity (visual analogue scale). Secondary outcomes included pain on movement, functional disability, quality of life, well-being and perceived stress, postural and interoceptive awareness, satisfaction, and safety. Altogether, 114 participants were included (91 women, 49.4 ± 11.7 years of age). After 12 weeks Tai Chi participants reported significantly less pain compared with the wait list group (average difference in mm on the visual analogue scale: -10.5; 95% confidence interval, -20.3 to -.9; P = .033). Group differences were also found for pain on movement, functional disability, and quality of life compared with the wait list group. No differences were found for Tai Chi compared with neck exercises. Patients' satisfaction with both exercise interventions was high, and only minor side effects were observed. Tai Chi was more effective than no treatment in improving pain in subjects with chronic nonspecific neck pain. Because Tai Chi is probably as effective as neck exercises it may be considered a suitable alternative to conventional exercises for those with a preference toward Tai Chi.

Perspective: This article presents results of a randomized controlled trial comparing Tai Chi, conventional neck exercises, and no treatment for chronic nonspecific neck pain. Results indicate that Tai Chi exercises and conventional neck exercises are equally effective in improving pain and quality of life therefore representing beneficial interventions for neck pain.

Trial registration: NCT02222051.

Keywords: Neck pain; Tai Chi; chronic pain; efficacy; neck exercises; randomized controlled trial; spinal exercises.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Awareness
  • Chronic Pain / rehabilitation
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement / physiology
  • Neck / physiology*
  • Neck Pain / psychology
  • Neck Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tai Ji / methods*
  • Visual Analog Scale

Associated data