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Tai Chi to Ease Arthritis Symptoms

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/30/2010

Tai chi for arthritis - does it help to relieve joint pain and stiffness? Find out about the benefits of tai chi and whether it's safe for people with arthritis symptoms.

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    People practice the Chinese art of tai chi as a form of self-defense but also as a way to improve health and promote longevity. The graceful, flowing movements of this meditative sport are expressive and beautiful to watch, and some studies show the fluid movements of tai chi even help to reduce chronic pain. One common condition that causes considerable pain and joint stiffness is arthritis. Is tai chi for arthritis effective – and most importantly is it safe?

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    Tai Chi and Arthritis: Does It Help Arthritis Pain?

    People who have osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, experience joint stiffness and pain especially first thing in the morning. Research consistently shows that exercise helps ease the joint pain and stiffness that people with arthritis experience. In the past, most arthritis sufferers have taken part in exercises such as swimming or walking, but recently tai chi has grown in popularity as a form of exercise for people with joint discomfort and arthritis. Is it effective?

    Research looking at whether tai chi for arthritis reduces pain and improves function in people with osteoarthritis has been mostly positive, although not every study has shown clear benefits. On the other hand, a recent analysis that combined the results of seven different randomized controlled trials clearly showed tai chi reduces pain and improves functionality in people who suffer with chronic musculoskeletal pain, including arthritis. Not only does it help ease pain and increase mobility, it also has a positive effect on mood.

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    Why is Tai Chi a Good Form of Exercise for Arthritis Sufferers?

    Doctors usually recommend that people with arthritis avoid high-impact exercises involving jumping or running since jumping around can traumatize joints that are already inflamed. Tai chi is a low-impact exercise that’s safe even for people with achy, inflamed joints. It has the added benefit of building strength, flexibility, and balance, which is important for everyone, but even more so for people with arthritis.

    Being in chronic pain is no fun - and tai chi is also a form of mind-body exercise that has psychological benefits for people with arthritis. It reduces stress levels and helps build self-esteem, which is beneficial for people with arthritis who may be anxious or depressed because of their condition. Tai chi is usually practiced in groups, which gives a person with arthritis the chance to socialize and interact with others. It’s as therapeutic for the mind as it is for the body.

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    Safety Issues when Doing Tai Chi for Arthritis

    Tai chi is generally safe for people with arthritis, but it’s important to check with a doctor before starting out. Certain tai chi moves may require modification. For example, a person with severe arthritis of the knees should avoid centering weight on only one leg at a time. A good instructor can demonstrate how to make these modifications when appropriate.

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    The Bottom Line

    Tai chi is one of the best forms of exercise for people with arthritis. Most research supports its safety and effectiveness, although some moves may need to be modified for people with severe joint pain. All in all, a regular tai chi program offers significant benefits for people who suffer from arthritis.

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    References

    Arthritis Foundation. "Aquatic Exercise and Tai Chi Therapy Effective for Osteoarthritis" - http://www.arthritis.org/aquatic-tai-chi.php

    “The Effectiveness of Tai Chi for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain Conditions: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Amanda Hall, Chris Maher, Jane Latimer, Manuela Ferreira, Arthritis Care & Research, June 2009.

    Science Daily. "Tai Chi Gets Cautious Thumbs Up for Psychological Health" - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100520213106.htm