Tai Chi Relieves Chronic Pain of Arthritis

By Pat Anson, Editor

The ancient Chinese exercise Tai Chi improves pain and stiffness in older adults suffering from osteoarthritis, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers also found that Tai Chi improved the physical condition of older patients with breast cancer, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Tai Chi consists of slow, choreographed movements that aim to boost muscle power, balance, and posture. It also includes mindfulness, relaxation, and breath control.

In a meta-analysis (a study of studies), researchers looked at 34 studies involving nearly 1,600 participants to see how effective Tai Chi was in four chronic long term conditions that are common in older adults – cancer, heart failure, COPD and osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a progressive joint disorder which leads to thinning of cartilage and joint damage in the knees, hips, fingers and spine.

Participants ranged in age from their mid-50s to early 70s. On average, they took part in two to three Tai Chi sessions a week for 12 weeks, with most classes lasting an hour.

Researchers found that Tai Chi was associated with improvements in physical capacity and muscle strength in most or all four conditions, including a six minute walking test, bending and stretching at the knees, and the time it took to get from a sitting to a standing position.

Breathlessness was reduced in patients with COPD, and osteoarthritis patients showed improvement in the symptoms of pain and stiffness.

“The results demonstrated a favorable effect or tendency of Tai Chi to improve physical performance and showed that this type of exercise could be performed by individuals with different chronic conditions,” researchers said.

A previous study of Tai Chi have found that it significantly reduces pain in as little as 8 weeks in patients with fibromyalgia, as well as sustained benefits in sleep, fatigue, anxiety, physical function and overall well-being. That study is published online in Arthritis Research & Therapy.

Fibromyalgia is a complex disorder characterized by chronic pain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping and mood swings.