Tai Chi Quan and Falls Prevention

Contrary to its appearance, Tai Chi Quan has been proven to be a useful component in falls prevention for elderly patients as well as patients who have neurological problems.  Tai Chi Quan is a form of martial art originating from China originally developed as a means of exercise, self-defense, and sport. However, more recently studies have shown that many of the movement patterns that are performed while practicing Tai Chi have been helpful in addressing deficits in mobility and balance in a variety of patients who present with a falls risk.

In a study performed by Dr. Fuzhong Li, he and his colleagues developed a modified training program (named ‘Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance’) incorporating many of the movement patterns from traditional Tai Chi Quan to focus on stimulating musculoskeletal, sensory, and cognitive components of an individual’s posture .  As a part of their study/training regimen, one of their objectives was to train patients to engage in self-guided multidirectional movement patterns within and outside of their center of gravity under different conditions such as alternating balance on one limb at a time and rotational weight shifting in multiple directions.  According to Dr. Li, these movements both challenged and promoted sensory integration, limits of stability, functional adaptation, anticipatory control, and compensatory responses. As a result, Li and his colleagues theorize that a patient who regularly practiced Tai Chi would eventually be able to functionally adapt to sudden shifts in postural changes, perturbations, and quick changes in direction thereby decreasing their falls risk. In another study also performed by Dr. Li, further research into incorporation of Tai Chi Quan as a part of a falls prevention program resulted in improved outcomes for those who participated versus those who participated in a regular routine of stretching and strengthening alone.

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The two aforementioned studies, along with many others, show that Tai Chi certainly has tremendous value in terms of falls prevention strategies for elderly patients and patients with neurological disorders.  Additionally, many resources can be found online in order to assist those that are interested in learning more about therapeutic Tai Chi as as well as locating a local group to join.

Posted in: Physical Therapy

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