Debunking the Myths: “Tai Chi Knee”

Tag: tai chi

Have you ever heard of “Tai Chi Knee”? I first heard about it years ago when I saw a promotion for a book claiming to explain why Tai Chi knee is a ‘normal’ part of Tai Chi practice, along with tips on how to ‘minimise’ the risk of developing Tai Chi Knee. The basic premise was that the positions that some Tai Chi stances require students to put their lower limbs in put a significant amount of strain on the knee joint, and this in turn will cause pain and eventually joint problems. While it is suggested that appropriate strength and conditioning of the knee can minimise these effects, it is accepted that “some” degree of pain is to be expected through learning and performing Tai Chi – a ‘sacrifice for the art’ if you will.

I’m here to tell you that is a complete fallacy. Tai Chi Knee is nothing more than poor understanding and instruction of Tai Chi. It is not something that should exist.

Before becoming a Tai Chi Instructor I was (still am) a Physical Therapist. Throughout my experience with Tai Chi it has always amazed me the level of understanding the old masters had of biomechanics and kinesiology. Every stance, or ‘form’, in Tai Chi is a carefully considered combination of structure and position which results in strength, balance and effective distribution of external forces (eg: gravity) acting on the body. There is no form in any style of Tai Chi that allows or accepts pain or dysfunction as a result of adopting that position. The very notion that such a thing would exist is absurd as it goes against the very principle of using Tai Chi as a way of moving energy (Qi) around the body as part of developing optimal health.

How does “Tai Chi Knee” happen?

In theory, Tai Chi Knee often occurs as the result of either poor alignment of the knee relative to the rest of the body, or applying torsion through the knee while bearing weight through it. I say “in theory” because with correct Tai Chi practice, neither of these things should occur.

The knee is often referred to as a hinge joint as it’s primary movements are to bend (flex) and straighten (extend). However, because of its anatomy, the knee can also be rotated very slightly. Rotation usually occurs in a ‘closed-chain position’, that is, with the feet in contact with the ground or some other surface. In this position the femur can turn slightly over the tibia, creating a torque (rotational force) through the knee. Depending on the alignment of the knee in relation to rest of the leg, it can also flex on one side or the other (lateral flexion). This results in one side of the knee being stretched, while the other is compressed. This movements are often minimal, however they do create strain and wear on the knee.

Excessive and/or repetitive torsion and/or lateral forces can lead to wear and tear on knee structures, especially the ligaments and cartilage. Tai Chi practitioners are at risk of experiencing these forces if:

  • the alignment of the knee is incorrect relative the rest of the leg, especially in relation to the foot (often causes lateral forces);
  • body-weight is applied through the knee while attempting to change position, for example, when turning to change direction (often causes torsion); and/or
  • the joint is being overstressed, as may occur if the student is attempting to move through a range, or at a depth, that their musculoskeletal system has not been conditioned to (often occurs when attempting to perform movements that are too deep or too long).

How to avoid “Tai Chi Knee”

The good news is that with correct instruction and careful practice you never have to experience Tai Chi Knee. While it’s beyond the scope of this article to suggest the correct practice for every Tai Chi form in every set across all styles, here are some general considerations:

  1. work to your current ability: particularly important if you are new to Tai Chi, or new to exercising in general. Your body needs to adapt and make changes in order to perform at its best. No movements or positions should be forced. A good instructor will not expect you to over strain or stretch your body in order to make things look “correct”; rather, they will help you work within your capacity while showing you how to challenge yourself to make improvements over time;
  2. align your knees with your feet and your hip joints: generally speaking, your knee should not fall inside or outside of your foot or hip joint as this causes excessive lateral forces. If you are unsure, have your instructor check your alignment while performing your form;
  3. anytime the foot needs to turn, the weight should be coming off that foot: a position change is generally associated with a weight shift; this is important as it allows the foot to be able to turn freely and avoid torsion through the knee. If it isn’t easy to move the foot, chances are you have your weight distributed incorrectly – have your instructor check and correct;
  4. some movements may cause strain, but none should cause pain: some forms in Tai Chi can be challenging, and this challenge is what encourages our bodies to adapt and improve. No forms should cause pain. I differentiate between pain and strain as follows: strain should be mildly uncomfortable, however relieves immediately upon cessation. Pain is anything strong that a mild discomfort, and/or persists after cessation. It is important to clarify what you’re feeling with your Tai Chi practice with your instructor.

Of all the things that can result in knee pain, Tai Chi should not be one of them. In fact, Tai Chi is well supported through clinical research as a means of reducing knee pain. Tai Chi Knee should not ever be a thing. If any Tai Chi instructor tells you to expect to develop Tai Chi Knee, my advice would be: run! While your knees are still healthy!


Tag: tai chi

Always wanted to try Tai Chi? Now’s your chance!

New Come N Try Tai Chi sessions have been announced for July! Come N Try sessions are a great way to experience Tai Chi and Qigong for those with no previous experience and is open to all. No booking or reservation necessary – just show up on the day!

Details can be found on the Events page.


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We’re masking up and social distancing and still enjoying our Tai Chi!

Thanks to our venue hosts allowing us to continue classes, and by following CDC and Wisconsin State Government mandates and recommendations, we’re still holding classes and practicing our Tai Chi!

Tai Chi offers many benefits that can help you make it through this pandemic. Not only is it a safe and easy way of maintaining physical activity, it can boost your immune system, ease stress, and clear your mind.

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy welcomes all ages and all levels of experience to its classes. Find a class for you at our classes link.


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Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is pleased to annouce a new class being established in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Term 1 will commence Tuesday July 14, 2020 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, Brookfield, at 6pm. Classes will run for one hour and be grouped into ten week terms. WTCA expects to run four terms per year at this venue.

Initially WCTA will teach the Beijing 24 Forms to new students, however advanced classes are expected to commence in 2021.

WCTA looks forward to welcoming new students to this class!


Tag: tai chi

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is please to announce a new class being established in Evansville, WI.

Term 1 will commence Saturday May 25, 2019 at the Porter Town Hall, Evansville, at 8:00am. Classes will run for 2.5 hours and be held monthly with 4 months to a term. WTCA expects to run 3 terms per year at this venue.

Initially WCTA will teach the Beijing 24 Forms to new students, however advanced classes are expected to commence in due course.

WCTA looks forward to welcoming new students to this class!