Timothy C. Hain, MD• Last updated on August 23, 2020->

STUDY: N.I.H. Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM). "Tai Chi for Balance Disorders." 1993-1994, Reference # 1R21RR09535-01. Site, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Sponsoring Institution: Northwestern University, Chicago Illinois, USA. Principal Investigator: T. C. Hain, MD. Other investigators: J. Kotsias, Lynne Fuller (PT), L. Weil (PT)taichi.gif (14926 bytes)

Our aim was to determine if eight weeks of daily practice of an alternative health care exercise, T'ai Chi, can significantly improve balance of persons with mild balance disorders. We studied 22 persons with stable and mild balance disorders, with numbers distributed equally between 3 age groups : 20-44, 46-60, and 61 and beyond. We evaluated efficacy of T'ai Chi through comparison of functional tests of balance (Romberg, Duncan Reach Test, Moving Platform Posturography) and self-reports of balance and falls (Medical Outcomes Study (MOS) questionnaire, Dizziness Handicap smart balance.bmp (22462 bytes)Inventory (DHI) questionnaire), obtained prior to and following the Tai Chi course.

The Tai Chi movements that we used were selected from several different schools of T'ai Chi and included the following sequence: Hold the Ball (Wu style), Turning the Wheel (Yang style, as illustrated to the right), Brush Knee and Twist Step (Yang style), Step Back to Repulse Monkey (Yang style), Walking the Circle (Pa-Kua style), Kick heel to left and right (Wu style), Partition of the Wild Horse's Mane (Wu style), Hold the Ball.


Highly significant improvements were noted in posturography (average score improved from 59.5 to 64.3) and the MOS and DHI tests. An insignificant improvement was found in the Romberg test (although there was a strong trend). There was no effect on the Duncan reach test scores. Improvements were found in all age groups.


Eight weeks of Tai Chi was associated with significant improvement in balance.


You can download the Taichi handout (about 650K, pdf format, 20 pages) which are the instructions that were used in our study. See the journal article by Hain et al, 1999 ( full citation below) for more detail about the study. This article can be downloaded through the web as a PDF file from the archives of otolaryngology site. You will need Adobe acrobat to read a pdf file.


Tai Chi forms used in our study

  • Chou, JR. Pa Kua Palm Practice (Chinese), Tai Ping Book Store, Hong Kong, 1969
  • Kotsias, J. The Essential Movements of Tai Chi. Paradigm Publications, 1989 (available through Redwing Books, see below).
  • Ru HS. Wue (Hao )style T'ai Chi (Chinese), People's athletic publishers, Beijing, 1964
  • Yang Cheng Pu. Practical use of T'ai Chi Chuan (Chinese), Ching Martial Arts Pub, Taipei, Taiwan, 1935
  • Wu CC. Wu Style Tai Chi (Chinese), People's athletic publishers, Beijing, 1958

These references came from Mr. Kotsias's library and we do not know where most of them are obtained at present. They may be out of print. However, numerous similar books are available through Redwing Books (see link list at end).

Measures used in our study. These can be obtained through medical libraries.

  • Stewart AL, Hays RD, Ware JE. The MOS short-form general health survey. Medical Care, 26, 1988, 724-735
  • Jacobson GP, Newman CW. The development of the dizziness handicap inventory. Arch Otol HNS, 116, 1990, 424-427
  • Duncan PW, Studenski S, Chandler J, Prescott B. Functional reach: predictive validity in a sample of elderly male veterans. J. Gerontology, 1992, 47, M93-M98

Health Effects of Tai Chi as well as some other martial arts. These references can be obtained through medical libraries and interlibrary loan.


T'ai Chi is hot ! There are an immense number of recent references concerning the health benefits of T'ai Chi. As of 2015, there were 326 in PubMed. As of 1994, when we did our study, there were only about 10, so almost all of them were published after our study (done in 1993-1994 and published in 1999). Many of these studies seem to be somewhat high on enthusiasm and low on scientific rigor. Nevertheless, there is no reasonable argument with the general idea that regular balance exercise (such as T'ai Chi) improves balance. There is also little argument about the point that T'ai Chi, done in a group or with an exercise video, is much less expensive than the typical twice/week physical therapy for 3 months or even personal trainers. We doubt that there is much difference between the different schools of T'ai Chi, other than activities done sitting are likely less beneficial.

One would think that Yoga, cycling, hiking, or just walking around the pond out back would also have considerable benefits over more sedentary activities and perhaps we will also see a surge of publications concerning other group activities in the future.

Here is a small selection of the numerous publications on T'ai Chi and health benefits.


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