Do Doctors Recommend Tai Chi? No. But Here’s Why and How That’s Changing


do doctors recommend tai chi banner

I would love to be able to tell you that based on many recent Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) on the positive and therapeutic effects of tai chi that doctors recommend tai chi to their patients. But it’s not the case. I would also love to tell you that when medical practitioners reach out because one of their clients (who attends my class) has made dramatic improvements that I am flooded with new students. But I am not.

Odd, don’t you think?

Add to this the rise in research, the cultural interest in Eastern concepts, the increase in accessibility of tai chi, and an aging population that seeks mobility-safe activities, and we should have a perfect storm of problem and solution. But alas, that’s not the case (yet).

A 2021 study interviewing physicians found that doctors recommend tai chi very infrequently because they are not made aware of the results of controlled trials, it is not covered in their education, and they do not have examples of other physicians applying evidence in their practice. 1

This makes total sense. It is probably intriguing to them but if they don’t have the studies or see how their peers are using it, they are going to be reluctant to “prescribe” it. I use prescribe meaningfully here. When doctors recommend, suggest, or prescribe it carries a lot of weight.

Second reason this makes sense is that if people are in a doctor’s office, something is wrong. There is an injury, lack of energy, pain, or plain-old not feeling great. Who is motivated to start something new and foreign at this point even if it promises to improve the situation?

If you are a physician looking for a safe way to help your patients, I want to provide you with some of the research that your colleagues have been doing. Studies indicate that you may not have had heard about this in your educational experience or have trusted colleagues who recommend it. I included some of the most important ones here, but know that I organized 31 studies based on medical problems that improved with tai chi.

If have come to tai chi with the hopes to get healthier, I want to increase your confidence that it is effective and give you the resources to share with your doctor to make sure it is suitable for your specific condition.

The article I cited above is the best kind of research because it not only points out a problem but it points out a solution. It went on to say that there are three reasons that doctors recommend tai chi infrequently: lack of access, lack of evidence, and lack of patient receptivity. Let’s fix that.

studies to support recommending tai chi

Help Doctors Recommend Tai Chi by Sharing Evidence

I work in a medical field and I am happy to hear that medical professionals are reluctant to recommend treatment without being confident or without being sure it won’t make the condition worse.

The truth is that the evidence is out there, it just needs to be shared. Aside from the list of documented studies I shared above, I wrote articles on how I or my students have benefitted from tai chi in a way to create case studies of movement as a healing modality.

Help Doctors Recommend Tai Chi by Finding Classes

In-Person Local Classes

Can you imagine a doctor saying: “I have the cure! But it’s not available to you.” And as busy as they are, are they going to research available classes for you based on where you live? Tai Chi instructors are notoriously bad at updating websites and marketing. Not usually one of our strengths 😊. But with a simple tai chi near me search you will be on your way. The next step is attending the class and then making sure it is right for you with this checklist of things to consider.

Learning Tai Chi Online

One benefit of the pandemic is that online teaching has exploded. I researched the best and most inexpensive online tai chi classes and I chose three that are at different fitness levels. I will say that some people have had more success when they have made tai chi a socializing event. So even if you do not attend a live class, starting an online class with someone else can make it more fun and you will be more receptive to the idea.

tai chi recommended nearby

Increase Patient Receptivity to Tai Chi

As a teacher of many years, I can describe with great detail how reluctant people are to come into class. Even if they successfully battled rush hour into downtown and built up the courage to walk into our Rec Center, many still stand in the hall peering through the window on the door. Usually, a late classmate comes up behind and gives them the needed “push” to take the final step into the classroom.

New things are intimidating.

Too tired, sore, worried that the class will be too strenuous, an ego blow because no one is good at something new… These are all great reasons to stay home and continue doing what you are doing. But, those habits of yours probably got you into the doctors office in the first place! I am not sure exactly what you need to do to improve your health but I am positive that it is something new and different.

As a teacher of many years, I also have seen the difference between people who come for one night and people who come continually. Here are suggestions for patients or loved ones to nudge them out the door:

  • Go with a friend, spouse, or partner. Any event is more excited and more acceptable when it becomes an adventure with someone you like spending time with. The second person is sometimes important for taking the leap. Many couples start attending class and then the one who needs it is the one who continues.
  • Talk about tai chi being a bridge. Most of my long-time students are 60+ and had been active at one point in their life. They ran, danced, swam, played tennis… Honestly they still see themselves in that light even if they can’t do it anymore. Tai chi can be the therapeutic bridge to getting them back in shape to do that activity. Those that can, often do both. Many transition to just doing tai chi. What they really want is an active lifestyle.
  • Demystify tai chi. I look forward to the day when tai chi is as accepted as Yoga and seen as less mystical. I really envy those yoga people. Which PR firm did they hire? Most people that do tai chi have the same relationship with it as yoga practitioners do with yoga. It is not religious. It is not “out there.” It is healthy, fun, social, doable by almost everyone, and accessible in most communities. Here is a search on the benefits of tai chi to share to break down that barrier.
  1. Huston, Patricia, and Deirdre MacGuigan. “What do academic physicians think of Tai Chi? A qualitative study.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 27.5 (2021): 434-441. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2020.0418

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

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