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Psychosocial effects of Tai Chi exercise on people with rheumatoid arthritis


  • Jennifer M Waite-Jones BA, MSc, PhD,

    Psychology Lecturer and Coordinator, Corresponding author
    1. School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
    • Correspondence: Jennifer M Waite-Jones, Psychology Lecturer and Coordinator, School of Healthcare, Baines Wing, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9UT, UK. Telephone: +44 (0)113 343 1255.


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  • Claire A Hale BA, PhD, RN,

    Dame Kathleen Raven Professor of Clinical Nursing
    1. School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
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  • Hea-Young Lee PhD, RN

    Principal Researcher
    1. Nursing Policy Research Institute, Korean Nurse Association, Seoul, Korea
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Aims and objectives

To investigate the perceived psychosocial effects of participating in taught sessions of Tai Chi on people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).


Tai Chi is thought to be psychologically as well as physically beneficial for people with arthritis.


This study adopted a qualitative approach to follow-up participants who had previously demonstrated physical and psychological benefits from a specifically modified Tai Chi programme in an attempt to explore perceived psychosocial improvements.


Nineteen semi-structured, audio-taped, interviews were carried out with participants who had taken part in, twice weekly, group-based Tai Chi sessions for 12 weeks. Data from transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis.


Analysis suggests that participating in shared Tai Chi sessions provides increased awareness of the links between mind and body; reduces anxiety and depression; and improves self-esteem, self-efficacy and motivation. It was particularly striking to find that the highly structured nature of Tai Chi was felt to improve memory and seemed to offer aesthetic experiences through developing graceful, ‘fluid’ moves rather than the ‘jarring’ movements often imposed by having RA. Such group sessions were found to provide social support and help improve participants' sense of perspective.


Although small scale, this study suggests that Tai Chi has the potential to offer psychosocial benefits for people with RA.

Relevance to clinical practice

Offering Tai Chi alongside traditional treatments for RA could promote psychological health and well-being, help inform clinical decision-making and prove cost-effective.