Research and background into Tai Chi for falls prevention

Mark Peters / pub. NHS networks

This subject has had a long and controversial history as it has been applied in broad brush strokes rather than targeting frail and pre-frail people as two significant groups. The most well known and quoted study is the Wolf study (1) which states general exercise reduce risks of falls by 10%. Specialised training reduces risks by 25%. Tai Chi reduces risks of falls by 47%(1)

The reason for writing this article is to discuss the research and my personal findings as a Tai Chi teacher working within health authorities and regular classes open to the general public. Through my company Balanced Approach, I have been presenting workshops for Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Extend Teachers, PSI’s and care workers. This training has been organised by the PCT’s and Sports Councils.

My regular classes for the general public include people who have various interests from relaxation and gentle exercise, to a less aggressive martial art and spiritual development; we also get a number of referrals from GP’s and hospitals which can consist of patients with COPD, cardiac conditions, strokes, sports injuries etc.

We have people suffering from CFS (ME), MS, Parkinson’s; rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, people who are fully mobile, wheel-chair bound and everything in between. This mix gives a very good insight into Tai Chi’s effectiveness.

Some falls facts (taken from help the aged website)

  • Falls make up over half of the admissions to A&E
  • 14,000 died from fractures
  • 50% fall again
  • hip fractures cost NHS £1.7 billion
  • after a fracture 50% no longer live independently
  • over a third of people of 65 years fall each year
  • General exercise reduce risks of falls by 10%. Specialised training reduces risks by 25%. Tai Chi reduces risks of falls by 47%
How Tai Chi works – Therapeutic elements
  • Continuous steady movement – performed slowly with awareness
  • Small and large degrees of movement
  • knee flexion and weight shifting
  • straight and extended head and trunk – suspended from above. Do not watch the floor
  • combined/coordinated rotational movement of head, trunk and extremities. Rotational movement builds greater stability than linear movement alone.
  • centred movement – asymmetrical arm and leg movement about the waist.
  • unilateral weight bearing and constant shifting
  • improved circulation, suppleness and flexibility
  • increased sense of connection to the ground
  • checking/sensing the ground before moving into it
  • strengthens muscles and balances tendons and ligaments
  • abdominal breathing increases oxygenisation and relaxation
  • increased special awareness – mind/body balance and connection

For full reference click here.

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