Tai Chi for Chronic Pain

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

Tai Chi is a gentle form of mind-body exercise that can help reduce symptoms in people with chronic pain. I have been practicing tai chi for over a decade and have also been teaching for years. I have found that tai chi helps reduce pain in my knees, back, neck, and shoulders. The more I practice, the better it gets.

There are many benefits of practicing Tai Chi including:

1) improved strength

2) balance

3) coordination

4) flexibility

5) reduced stress.

The list goes on to include reducing symptoms and improving quality of life for people with many conditions and diseases including these noted by the Harvard Health Blog:

1) osteoarthritis

2) breast cancer

3) heart failure

4) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a serious lung condition that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

These are conditions that many help people have with chronic pain. Therefore, tai chi is a great option to ultimately help you get back to doing the things you love WITH the people you love!


So how does Tai Chi reduce pain? To begin with, lets talk briefly about how pain is created. Simply put, pain is created by the brain based on threat. That means that if your brain establishes that there is something that might be an issue in your body and/or mind, pain will be created so that you will take care of the problem. For more on pain science, check out this short 5 minute video:

Understanding Pain

For example, if you have weakness in your legs, your brain might perceive that as a threat and you may feel pain in your leg, especially if you have tightness or other impairments which can stress the joints.

Another example is if you are very stressed out, your muscles will tighten to try and protect you. This can feel painful and can limit your movement.

Chronic pain can be debilitating. It can prevent you from doing your daily activities, spending time with family, and can cause you to miss work! Low back pain is the leading cause of work-related disability in the U.S. (National Institutes for Health).  A 2014 study indicate that almost one fifth of workers with back pain take some absence over a period of 6 months or longer (Gwenllian Wynne-Jones, et al).

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There are many approaches to reducing chronic pain. Here we will discuss the top 5 evidence-based ways that I have found to work the best:

1. Reduce the Threat

One of the most important ways to reduce chronic pain is to reduce the brain’s perception of threat. This will in turn reduce your pain.

One way to reduce this threat is to practice Tai Chi. There is lots of research that supports this idea.

Recent studies show that Tai Chi can benefit people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, tension headache, and other ongoing, painful conditions. 

In one trial, for example, 66 people with fibromyalgia were randomized into two groups: one group took tai chi classes twice a week, the other group attended wellness education and stretching sessions twice a week. After 12 weeks, those in the tai chi group reported less pain, fewer depression symptoms, and better sleep than the control group. (