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Tai Chi/Qigong

Library of Research Articles on Veterans and CIH Therapies

January 2021 Edition

Tai Chi/Qigong

Bolton RE, Fix GM, VanDeusen Lukas C, Elwy AR, Bokhour BG. Biopsychosocial benefits of movement-based complementary and integrative health therapies for patients with chronic conditions. Chronic Illn. 2018 Jan 1:1742395318782377. doi: 10.1177/1742395318782377. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 29914264.


Complementary and integrative health practices are growing in popularity, including use of movement-based therapies such as yoga, tai-chi, and qigong. Movement-based therapies are beneficial for a range of health conditions and are used more frequently by individuals with chronic illness. Yet little is known about how patients with chronic conditions characterize the health benefits of movement-based therapies.


We conducted focus groups with 31 patients enrolled in yoga and qigong programs for chronic conditions at two VA medical centers. Transcripts were analyzed using conventional content analysis with codes developed inductively from the data. Participants' descriptions of health benefits were then mapped to Engel's biopsychosocial model.


Participants described improvements in all biopsychosocial realms, including improved physical and mental health, reduced opiate and psychotropic use, enhanced emotional well-being, and better social relationships. Changes were attributed to physical improvements, development of coping skills, and increased self-awareness.


Patients with chronic illnesses in our sample reported multiple benefits from participation in movement-based therapies, including in physical, mental, and social health realms. Providers treating patients with complex comorbidities may consider referrals to movement-based therapy programs to address multiple concerns simultaneously, particularly among patients seeking alternatives to medication or adjunctive to an opiate reduction strategy.

Gaddy MA. Implementation of an integrative medicine treatment program at a Veterans Health Administration residential mental health facility. Psychol Serv. 2018 Nov;15(4):503-509. doi: 10.1037/ser0000189.

A 4-week interdisciplinary integrative medicine program was recently added to the core treatment offerings for veterans participating in the Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Program at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The new integrative medicine program teaches veterans about using meditative practices, nutrition, creative expression, tai chi, hatha yoga, sensory and breathing techniques, and lifestyle changes to enhance well-being. The groups are run by professionals from a variety of disciplines including recreation therapy, art therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, and nutrition. For the first 42 veterans to complete the program, the Short Form 12-item Health Survey was administered before and after participation in the integrative medicine program to assess the potential effectiveness of the program in enhancing physical and psychological well-being. In addition, a brief semistructured interview was used to assess veteran opinions about the program. Results suggest that the program was well received and that both physical and mental health scores improved from before to after treatment in this sample of veterans with complex behavioral health concerns. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).

Munro, S., Komelski, M., Lutgens, B., Lagoy, J., & Detweiler, M. (2019). Improving the Health of Veterans Though Moving Meditation Practices: A Mixed-Methods Pilot Study. Journal of Veterans Studies, 5(1), 16–23. DOI: http://doi.org/10.21061/jvs.v5i1.128

This study explores the use of low-to-moderate intensity mindfulness-based exercises ("moving meditation") to improve Veteran physical activity level and physiological health and psychological well-being including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomology. 12-week, pre- and post-test intervention, mixed methods pilot. Setting/Subjects: Veterans with a history of posttraumatic stress disorder receiving care at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem, Virginia. All Veterans participated in bi-weekly classroom instruction prior to a 6-10 minute warm up period of Qigong exercises, followed by a 30 minute period of Taijiquan/Qigong or mindful-meditative walking, followed by a 6-10 minute cool down period of light movement. Overall physical activity was measured for a one-week period before and after the 12-week intervention period with an Actigraph accelerometer. Physiological health indices were measured pre- and post- 12-week intervention, including salivary cortisol, Hgb A1C, fasting glucose, gonadal panel (FSH, LH, testosterone), albumin, hs-CRP, and sex hormone-binding globulin. Veterans' mental well-being was measured by the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale, the PTSD Checklist (PCL-C), the Cohen Perceived Stress scale, and the Beck Anxiety Inventory. Participants reported increased frequency and enjoyment of physical activity; improvement in Hgb A1C; improvement in balance and movement awareness; improvement in emotional regulation and focus; and reported reduced depression, stress and anxiety, and PTSD symptoms that benefitted social interactions. Moving meditation as part of a multifaceted treatment approach may increase physical activity, improve physiological health, and enhance mental well-being, particularly with respect to PTSD.

Niles BL, Mori DL, Polizzi CP, Pless Kaiser A, Ledoux AM, Wang C. Feasibility, qualitative findings and satisfaction of a brief Tai Chi mind-body programme for veterans with post-traumatic stress symptoms. BMJ Open. 2016 Nov 29;6(11):e012464. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012464. PubMed PMID: 27899398; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5168527.


To examine feasibility, qualitative feedback and satisfaction associated with a 4-session introduction to Tai Chi for veterans with post-traumatic stress symptoms.


We observed and reported recruitment and retention rates, participant characteristics, adherence, and satisfaction across 2 cohorts. We also examined qualitative feedback provided by questionnaires, focus groups and individual interviews.


Rates of recruitment and retention, focus group and individual feedback interviews, self-reported satisfaction.


17 veterans with post-traumatic stress symptoms.


Almost 90% (17/19) of those eligible following the telephone screen enrolled in the programme. Three-quarters (76.4%) of the participants attended at least 3 of the 4 Tai Chi sessions. Qualitative data analysis revealed themes indicating favourable impressions of the Tai Chi sessions. In addition, participants reported feeling very engaged during the sessions, and found Tai Chi to be helpful for managing distressing symptoms (ie, intrusive thoughts, concentration difficulties, physiological arousal). Participants also reported high satisfaction: 93.8% endorsed being very or mostly satisfied with the programme. All participants (100%) indicated that they would like to participate in future Tai Chi programmes and would recommend it to a friend.


Tai Chi appears to be feasible and safe for veterans with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is perceived to be beneficial and is associated with high rates of satisfaction. This study highlights the need for future investigation of Tai Chi as a novel intervention to address symptoms of PTSD.

Reb AM, Saum NS, Murphy DA, Breckenridge-Sproat ST, Su X, Bormann JE. Qigong in Injured Military Service Members. J Holist Nurs. 2017 Mar;35(1):10-24.


Wounded, ill, and injured (WII) Military Service members experience significant stress and are at risk for developing chronic conditions including posttraumatic stress disorder and depression. Qigong, a meditative movement practice, may positively affect their ability to engage in successful rehabilitation.


We assessed the feasibility of Qigong practice in WII Service members returning from combat; effects on stress, sleep, and somatic symptoms; satisfaction; and participants' experience with the practice.


Single-group, pre- and posttest, mixed methods approach.


Twenty-six WII were enrolled. The program was designed to include 20 classes over 10 weeks. Participants completed self-report questionnaires, practice logs, and an exit interview.


Average attendance was 8.14 classes ( SD = 4.9); mean engagement was 5.7 ( SD = 3.5) weeks. Participants endorsed a high level of satisfaction with the practice. Qualitative themes included coping with stress; feeling more resilient and empowered; improvement in symptoms including sleep and physical function; and factors affecting practice. Participant-reported facilitators included accessibility and portability of the practice; barriers included scheduling conflicts and personal challenges. Participants recommended offering shorter programs with flexible scheduling options, increasing program awareness, and including significant others in future classes.


Qigong was safe, portable, and easily adapted for WII Service members.

Reid KF, Bannuru RR, Wang C, Mori DL, Niles BL. The Effects of Tai Chi Mind-Body Approach on the Mechanisms of Gulf War Illness: an Umbrella Review. Integr Med Res. 2019

Gulf War illness (GWI) is a chronic and multisymptom disorder affecting military veterans deployed to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It is characterized by a range of acute and chronic symptoms, including but not limited to, fatigue, sleep disturbances, psychological problems, cognitive deficits, widespread pain, and respiratory and gastrointestinal difficulties. The prevalence of many of these chronic symptoms affecting Gulf War veterans occur at markedly elevated rates compared to nondeployed contemporary veterans. To date, no effective treatments for GWI have been identified. The overarching goal of this umbrella review was to critically evaluate the evidence for the potential of Tai Chi mind-body exercise to benefit and alleviate GWI symptomology. Based on the most prevalent GWI chronic symptoms and case definitions established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kansas Gulf War Veterans Health Initiative Program, we reviewed and summarized the evidence from 7 published systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Our findings suggest that Tai Chi may have the potential for distinct therapeutic benefits on the major prevalent symptoms of GWI. Future clinical trials are warranted to examine the feasibility, efficacy, durability and potential mechanisms of Tai Chi for improving health outcomes and relieving symptomology in GWI.

Solloway MR, Taylor SL, Shekelle PG, Miake-Lye IM, Beroes JM, Shanman RM, Hempel S. An evidence map of the effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes. Syst Rev. 2016 Jul 27;5(1):126. doi: 10.1186/s13643-016-0300-y. PubMed PMID: 27460789; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4962385.


This evidence map describes the volume and focus of Tai Chi research reporting health outcomes. Originally developed as a martial art, Tai Chi is typically taught as a series of slow, low-impact movements that integrate the breath, mind, and physical activity to achieve greater awareness and a sense of well-being.


The evidence map is based on a systematic review of systematic reviews. We searched 11 electronic databases from inception to February 2014, screened reviews of reviews, and consulted with topic experts. We used a bubble plot to graphically display clinical topics, literature size, number of reviews, and a broad estimate of effectiveness.


The map is based on 107 systematic reviews. Two thirds of the reviews were published in the last five years. The topics with the largest number of published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were general health benefits (51 RCTs), psychological well-being (37 RCTs), interventions for older adults (31 RCTs), balance (27 RCTs), hypertension (18 RCTs), fall prevention (15 RCTs), and cognitive performance (11 RCTs). The map identified a number of areas with evidence of a potentially positive treatment effect on patient outcomes, including Tai Chi for hypertension, fall prevention outside of institutions, cognitive performance, osteoarthritis, depression, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pain, balance confidence, and muscle strength. However, identified reviews cautioned that firm conclusions cannot be drawn due to methodological limitations in the original studies and/or an insufficient number of existing research studies.


Tai Chi has been applied in diverse clinical areas, and for a number of these, systematic reviews have indicated promising results. The evidence map provides a visual overview of Tai Chi research volume and content.

Tate LM, Brown LM, Lensing SY, Taylor T, Bopp MM, Ferrier I, Sullivan DH. Increasing the availability of Tai Chi to veterans through a training of trainers course. Nurs Forum. 2020 Apr;55(2):223-226. doi: 10.1111/nuf.12419.


The purpose of this nurse-led project was to increase the number of interprofessional Tai Chi instructors for veterans through a 5-week (32 hours) training of trainers (ToT) course led by a Tai Chi master trainer.


This project was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of using the ToT model to increase the availability of Tai Chi to veterans. To understand how well the ToT course met learners' needs, a two-phase course evaluation was conducted.


Fifteen interprofessional employees enrolled in and completed the course. Most learners were white (67%) females (67%) with a median age of 50 years. All agreed that the training provided the skills, materials, and confidence to lead Tai Chi classes. Most (93%) indicated experiencing positive health benefits from the training and none experienced any negative effects. The 3-month follow-up evaluation indicated that 10 (67%) were teaching veterans in individual or group classes with two others assisting. Twelve instructors taught more than 150 veterans.


Overall, learners evaluated this ToT course positively and indicated their needs were met and felt prepared to teach Tai Chi despite being inexperienced. The course was a success with 80% of new instructors teaching or coteaching Tai Chi to veterans.

Tsai PF, Kitch S, Chang JY, et al. Tai Chi for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain: A Pilot Study. J Holist Nurs. 2018;36(2):147-158. doi:10.1177/0898010117697617


Explore the feasibility of a Tai Chi intervention to improve musculoskeletal pain, emotion, cognition, and physical function in individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder.


Two-phase, one-arm quasi-experimental design.


Phase 1: 11 participants completed one Tai Chi session, feasibility questionnaire, and were offered participation in Phase 2, a 12-week Tai Chi intervention. Ten participants participated in Phase 2. Pain intensity, interference, physical function scales, an emotional battery, and cognition tests were used for pre- and postintervention outcome measures. Paired t tests and thematic analysis were used for analysis.


In Phase 1, most felt Tai Chi would benefit health (90.9%) and expressed interest in continuing Tai Chi (6.73 out of 7). Phase 2 results showed improvement in fear-affect (raw t = -2.64, p = .03; age adjusted t = -2.90, p = .02), fear-somatic arousal (raw t = -2.53, p = .035), List Sorting Working Memory (raw t = 2.62, p = .031; age adjusted t = 2.96, p = .018), 6-Minute Walk Test ( t = 3.541, p = .008), and current level of Pain Intensity ( t = -4.00, p = .004).


Tai Chi is an acceptable, holistic treatment to individuals with musculoskeletal pain and posttraumatic stress disorder. It may reduce pain, improve emotion, memory, and physical function.

Yost TL, Taylor AG. Qigong as a novel intervention for service members with mild traumatic brain injury. Explore (NY). 2013 May-Jun;9(3):142-9. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2013.02.002.


To describe the experience of internal qigong practice in service members diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).


The study used qualitative descriptive phenomenological methods originally described by Husserl and later refined by Giorgi.


Participants were interviewed about their experiences while learning qigong to determine their level of interest, benefits, and/or adverse effects; ease of learning/performing the routine; and any barriers to practice.


Six service members with mTBI receiving outpatient neurorehabilitation at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center-Charlottesville Rehabilitation Center.


Participants learned Reflective Exercise Qigong, a form of qigong developed specifically to require less complex movement and balance than most forms of qigong, making it ideal for those with potential coordination and balance issues.


Semistructured interviews took place after four weeks of formal qigong instruction, then again after the subjects completed eight weeks. Interview data were analyzed with phenomenological methods described by Giorgi.


Four themes emerged from the interview data: "the physical experience of qigong," "regaining control," "no pain, a lot of gain," and "barriers to qigong practice." Participants offered examples of how qigong enabled them to control refractory symptoms after mTBI while decreasing reliance on pharmacotherapy. All agreed that qigong was uniquely conducive to the disciplined mindset of military service members and that the simplicity of Reflective Exercise qigong, compared with similar modalities such as tai chi and yoga, was well suited to individuals with decreased balance, cognition, and memory related to mTBI.