Skip to main content

The Efficacy of Tai Chi and Yoga in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Spondyloarthropathies: A narrative biomedical review


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and spondyloarthropathies (SpA) are among the most common inflammatory rheumatic diseases, which might induce chronic pain for their sufferers. Mind–body interventions like Tai Chi and yoga are among the many alternative therapies for combatting chronic pain. This review aims to overview the articles about their effectiveness in RA and SpA. We searched PubMed/MEDLINE, Scopus, and Web of Science for English-language sources from their inception through September 2017. Case–control studies, interventional studies, and case series that included more than three cases and randomized crossover studies were included. The literature search retrieved 133 non-duplicate records, and 15 of them were eligible and were included in this review. The influence of Tai Chi remains debatable in RA, while there is only one study that investigated its efficacy in SpA. Yoga seems effective in decreasing pain and inflammation while increasing quality of life. There are no data available about its effect on SpA. Even after a thorough research, the number of articles is quite limited on the effectiveness of Tai Chi and yoga in RA and SpA. While these complementary approaches still show some promise as alternative therapies in RA and SpA, the literature lacks long-term studies with larger patient groups.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Uhlig T et al (1998) The incidence and severity of rheumatoid arthritis, results from a county register in Oslo, Norway. J Rheumatol 25(6):1078–1084

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Dean LE et al (2014) Global prevalence of ankylosing spondylitis. Rheumatology (Oxford) 53(4):650–657

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Nahin RL, Barnes PM, Stussman BJ (2016) Expenditures on complementary health approaches: United States, 2012. Natl Health Stat Rep 95:1–11

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Wang C (2011) Tai Chi and diseases. Rheum Dis Clin North Am 37(1):19–32

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Wang C, Collet JP, Lau J (2004) The effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes in patients with chronic conditions: a systematic review. Arch Intern Med 164(5):493–501

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Lam P (1998) New horizons… developing tai chi for health care. Aust Fam Physician 27(1–2):100–101

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Uhlig T (2012) Tai Chi and yoga as complementary therapies in rheumatologic conditions. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol 26(3):387–398

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Cramer H et al (2013) Yoga for rheumatic diseases: a systematic review. Rheumatology (Oxford) 52(11):2025–2030

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Ward L et al (2013) Yoga for functional ability, pain and psychosocial outcomes in musculoskeletal conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Musculoskelet Care 11(4):203–217

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Gasparyan AY et al (2011) Writing a narrative biomedical review: considerations for authors, peer reviewers, and editors. Rheumatol Int 31(11):1409–1417

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Furlan AD et al (2015) 2015 updated method guideline for systematic reviews in the Cochrane back and neck group. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 40(21):1660–1673

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Van Deusen J, Harlowe D (1987) The efficacy of the ROM Dance Program for adults with rheumatoid arthritis. Am J Occup Ther 41(2):90–95

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Kirsteins AE, Dietz F, Hwang SM (1991) Evaluating the safety and potential use of a weight-bearing exercise, Tai-Chi Chuan, for rheumatoid arthritis patients. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 70(3):136–141

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Uhlig T et al (2005) No improvement in a pilot study of tai chi exercise in rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis 64(3):507–509

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Wang C (2008) Tai Chi improves pain and functional status in adults with rheumatoid arthritis: results of a pilot single-blinded randomized controlled trial. Med Sport Sci 52:218–229

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Uhlig T et al (2010) Exploring Tai Chi in rheumatoid arthritis: a quantitative and qualitative study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 11:43

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Shin JH et al (2015) The beneficial effects of Tai Chi exercise on endothelial function and arterial stiffness in elderly women with rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Res Ther 17:380

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Lee EN et al (2008) Tai chi for disease activity and flexibility in patients with ankylosing spondylitis—a controlled clinical trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 5(4):457–462

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Dash M, Telles S (2001) Improvement in hand grip strength in normal volunteers and rheumatoid arthritis patients following yoga training. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 45(3):355–360

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Badsha H et al (2009) The benefits of yoga for rheumatoid arthritis: results of a preliminary, structured 8-week program. Rheumatol Int 29(12):1417–1421

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Bosch PR et al (2009) Functional and physiological effects of yoga in women with rheumatoid arthritis: a pilot study. Altern Ther Health Med 15(4):24–31

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Telles S et al (2011) Effect of one week of yoga on function and severity in rheumatoid arthritis. BMC Res Notes 4:118

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Singh VK et al (2011) Effect of yogic package on rheumatoid arthritis. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 55(4):329–335

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Evans S et al (2010) Iyengar yoga for young adults with rheumatoid arthritis: results from a mixed-methods pilot study. J Pain Symptom Manag 39(5):904–913

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Moonaz SH et al (2015) Yoga in sedentary adults with arthritis: effects of a randomized controlled pragmatic trial. J Rheumatol 42(7):1194–1202

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Ward L et al (2017) Yoga for the management of pain and sleep in rheumatoid arthritis: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Musculoskelet Care.

  27. 27.

    Jadhav MP et al (2011) Assessment of use of complementary alternative medicine and its impact on quality of life in the patients attending rheumatology clinic, in a tertiary care centre in India. Indian J Med Sci 65(2):50–57

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Zaman T, Agarwal S, Handa R (2007) Complementary and alternative medicine use in rheumatoid arthritis: an audit of patients visiting a tertiary care centre. Natl Med J India 20(5):236–239

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Mielenz TJ, Xiao C, Callahan LF (2016) Self-management of arthritis symptoms by complementary and alternative medicine movement therapies. J Altern Complement Med 22(5):404–407

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Greysen HM et al (2017) A qualitative study exploring community yoga practice in adults with rheumatoid arthritis. J Altern Complement Med 23(6):487–493

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Middleton KR et al (2017) A qualitative approach exploring the acceptability of yoga for minorities living with arthritis: ‘Where are the people who look like me?’. Complement Ther Med 31:82–89

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Waite-Jones JM, Hale CA, Lee HY (2013) Psychosocial effects of Tai Chi exercise on people with rheumatoid arthritis. J Clin Nurs 22(21–22):3053–3061

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Bharshankar JR et al (2015) Autonomic functions in Raja-yoga meditators. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 59(4):396–401

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Leverone D, Epstein BJ (2010) Nonpharmacological interventions for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: a focus on mind–body medicine. J Pharm Pract 23(2):101–109

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Banasik J et al (2011) Effect of Iyengar yoga practice on fatigue and diurnal salivary cortisol concentration in breast cancer survivors. J Am Acad Nurse Pract 23(3):135–142

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Yadav RK et al (2012) Efficacy of a short-term yoga-based lifestyle intervention in reducing stress and inflammation: preliminary results. J Altern Complement Med 18(7):662–667

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gulseren Akyuz.

Ethics declarations

Ethical approval

No part of this manuscript has been copied from elsewhere. As this is a review article, no ethics approval is required.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 86 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Akyuz, G., Kenis-Coskun, O. The Efficacy of Tai Chi and Yoga in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Spondyloarthropathies: A narrative biomedical review. Rheumatol Int 38, 321–330 (2018).

Download citation


  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Spondyloarthropathies
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga