Question & Answer

Does Qi Gong make a difference to arthritis and mental health?

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The Evidence

  • Qigong is a type of free-flowing, low-impact exercise that involves slow movements and breathing. It has been called ‘moving meditation’.
  • It has been claimed that qigong can help with arthritis and mental health.
  • We found three systematic reviews about qigong and its effect on osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis:
    • One review reported that a study of older people with OA found improvements in walking in people who did qigong compared with those who did not.
    • The second review combined a number of studies and found that compared with exercise, people doing qigong had less pain and stiffness and better physical function, but it was uncertain if qigong was better than pain-killers. This review also found that these improvements were greater if people stayed doing qigong for a year compared with those who only did it for 12 weeks.
    • The third looked at middle-aged people with knee OA. This review found that people who did qigong had less pain than those who did not, and that they were better able to manage their daily activities like getting up and sitting down, dressing and going shopping. However, the studies included in this review were of low quality, so we can’t be sure of this finding.
  • We found three systematic reviews about anxiety and depression.
    • One reported on two studies that found that qigong reduced depression in people who said they were stressed or diagnosed with depression. One of these also found that it reduced stress and anxiety. When researchers measured people’s stress hormones, one of these studies showed no change in stress hormones, whereas the other showed a reduction in stress hormones.
    • The second study was of college students and found that those doing qigong had less depression and anxiety. However, students didn’t report being in a better mood from doing qigong.
    • The third review looked at adults diagnosed with anxiety or depression and didn’t find any difference in people who did qigong and those who did not. However, the studies in this review were not good enough to be sure of these findings.
  • Usually, when we are testing whether something works or not in health, we try to blind the people taking part in the study. This means that they don’t know if they are getting the treatment or not. This is important because knowing we received a treatment can change how we feel or behave. Even if the treatment has no real effect, we might imagine it had. As it is impossible to blind someone to whether they were doing qigong or not, all the studies we looked at should be considered a little biased.

Guidelines and recommendations

  • We did not find any relevant guidelines or recommendations on qigong.

Things to Remember

  • Look out for treatment effects that are based on small studies with few people.
  • Just because a treatment is associated with people getting worse or better, that doesn’t mean that the treatment made them worse or better.
  • Look out for treatment comparisons from studies where lots of people dropped out. They may have dropped out because the treatment made them worse.


  • Lead Researcher:  Lead Researcher: Dr. Paula Byrne, Senior post-doctoral researcher, iHealthFacts, Evidence Synthesis Ireland and Cochrane Ireland, College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Galway.
  • Reviewed by: Prof Declan Devane, Professor of Health Research Methodology, Deputy Dean, College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Galway,
  • Scientific Director, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network Director, Evidence Synthesis Ireland. Director, Cochrane Ireland
  • Topic advisor: Prof. Andrew Murphy, Professor of General Practice, NUI Galway, Director of the Health Research Board Primary Care Clinical Trials Network Ireland and General Practitioner principal in a semi-rural practice.
  • Public and Patient advisor: Deirdre Mac Loughlin, Public and Patient Involvement in research (PPI) advisor, PPI Ignite, University of Galway.
  • Journalist Advisor: Dr. Claire O’Connell, PhD in cell biology, Masters in Science Communication. Contributor to The Irish Times, writing about health, science and innovation.

Conflict of Interest Statement: The authors have no financial or other conflicts of interest for this health claim summary.