Tai Chi Improves Pain in Arthritis

A bad fall caused Karen Strum, a 37 year-old Internet Marketer, to develop osteoarthritis in her spine. After reading that Tai Chi could help ease her pain, she decided to try it out and it didn’t take long to get her hooked.

“With Tai Chi, I am able to relax, even though it is stretching and strengthening my muscles,” said Strum, a Tampa Bay resident who began Tai Chi three years ago. “Many of my older classmates consider this their primary form of exercise.”

Like Strum, other Tai Chi students in her class have arthritis as well and take Tai Chi due to the positive effect of Tai Chi on arthritis. There are a number of studies that show the positive benefits.

Researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine have determined that patients over 65 years of age with knee osteoarthritis (OA) who engage in regular Tai Chi exercise improve physical function and experience less pain. For this study, Chenchen Wang, M.D., M.Sc., and colleagues recruited 40 patients from the greater Boston area with confirmed knee osteoarthritis who were in otherwise good health.  Patients were randomly selected and 20 were asked to participate in 60-minute Yang style Tai Chi sessions twice weekly for 12 weeks. Each session included: a 10-minute self-massage and a review of Tai Chi principles; 30 minutes of Tai Chi movement; 10 minutes of breathing technique; and 10 minutes of relaxation. The remaining 20 participants assigned to the control group attended two 60-minute class sessions per week for 12 weeks. Each control session included 40 minutes of instruction covering osteoarthritis as a disease, diet and nutrition, therapies to treat osteoarthritis, or physical and mental health education. The final 20 minutes consisted of stretching exercises involving the upper body, trunk, and lower body. At the end of the 12-week period, patients practicing Tai Chi exhibited a significant decrease in knee pain compared with those in the control group.

Another study examined the effectiveness of Tai Chi in decreasing pain and disability and improving physical function and quality of life in people with chronic musculoskeletal pain. The study is published in the June issue of Arthritis Care & Research. Led by Amanda Hall of The George Institute in Sydney, Australia, researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis. They analyzed seven eligible randomized controlled trials that used Tai Chi as the main intervention for patients with musculoskeletal pain. The results demonstrate that Tai Chi improves pain and disability in patients suffering arthritis. The authors state, “The fact that Tai Chi is inexpensive, convenient, and enjoyable and conveys other psychological and social benefits supports the use this type of intervention for pain conditions such as arthritis.”

Finally, at the end of an eight week study conducted by the Arthritis Foundation’s Tai Chi program, the individuals who had practiced Tai Chi showed moderate improvements in pain, fatigue and stiffness. They also had an increased sense of well-being, as measured by the psychosocial variables, and they had improved reach or balance, Leigh Callahan, PhD said.

Strum practices Tai Chi at the YMCA in Clearwater, Florida. Many YMCAs teach Tai Chi. Their beginner class concentrates on the 24 Form which includes postures like Part the Wild Horse’s Mane, White Crane Spreads It’s Wings, and Needle at Sea Bottom. 24 Form can be seen in the video at the top of this blog. The form was the result of an effort by the Chinese Sports Committee, which, in 1956, brought together four Tai Chi teachers – Chu Guiting, Cai Longyun, Fu Zhongwen, and Zhang Yu – to create a simplified form of Tai Chi as exercise for the masses. The creators truncated the traditional family style Tai Chi forms to 24 postures; taking between four and five minutes to perform and to give the beginner an introduction to the essential elements of Tai Chi, yet retain the traditional flavor of traditional longer hand forms (in general, 88-108 postures). Henceforth, this form was avidly promoted by the People’s Republic of China for general exercise. Due to this official promotion, the 24 Form is most likely the Tai Chi form with the most practitioners in China and the world over (though no surveys have been performed). The YMCA in Clearwater also teaches forms that include fans, swords and staffs. They also celebrate World Tai Chi Day yearly on Clearwater Beach as seen in the photo.

We recommend adding Tai Chi as part of your exercise routine. Have you looked at our Exercise Page yet? We have several videos of common exercises targeted to help your osteoarthritis.

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