Improving Balance With Tai Chi

Photo: Two people doing tai chi

Tai chi is beneficial for stroke
survivors and arthritis patients;

Christina Hui-Chan, professor and head of physical therapy at University of Illinois at Chicago, has studied and used tai chi as a way to improve balance and minimise falls among healthy elderly subjects. Now she and a colleague have seen similar results in a group of stroke survivors.

The study used 136 subjects in Hong Kong who had suffered a stroke more than six months earlier. Participants were randomly assigned to a tai chi group or a control group that practiced breathing, stretching and other exercises that involved sitting, walking, memorising and reasoning.

Tai chi consists of constant coordinated movement of the head, trunk and limbs requiring tremendous concentration and balance control. Participants learned a simplified form that had been shown to be beneficial to arthritis patients.

Patients were trained in small groups by physical therapists in a weekly class, and then practiced at home three days a week for one hour. They received twelve weeks of training but were able to learn the technique in as little as eight. The goal was to make the patients as independent in their treatment as possible, Hui-Chan said.

They were then tested for their ability to maintain balance while shifting weight, leaning in different directions, and standing on moving surfaces to simulate a crowded bus. In these tests the tai chi group out-performed the control exercise group. The two groups performed about the same on another test, which was not focused solely on balance but involved sitting, standing, walking, and returning to sit down.

"The tai chi group did particularly better in conditions that required them to use their balance control," Hui-Chan said. "In only six weeks, we saw significant improvements. The ability to shift your weight is very important because all reaching tasks require it."; Source: University of Illinois at Chicago