WEDNESDAY, Nov. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Arthritis patients may
gain physical and emotional relief from the ancient Chinese art of
Tai Chi, finds a new study, the largest of its kind.
Patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and
fibromyalgia felt better and moved more easily after taking
twice-weekly classes in Tai Chi, a system of meditative exercise,
"It reduced pain, stiffness and fatigue, and improved their balance," said study lead author Leigh F. Callahan, an associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.
Smaller studies have also linked Tai Chi to similar benefits for
people with arthritis, but colleagues had questioned the
applicability of the findings to a larger population.
In this study, in addition to evidence of mild to moderate
relief from Tai Chi, participants reported gaining a better sense
of physical stability, Callahan said. They were able to extend
their reach while maintaining their balance, she said -- an
important feat for people with arthritis.
Tai Chi, a form of mind-body exercise, originated as a martial
art in China. It utilizes slow, gentle movements along with deep
breathing and relaxation to build strength and flexibility.
Tai Chi has "become a lot more mainstream than it was even two
to three years ago," said Callahan, who is also a member of UNC's
Thurston Arthritis Research Center. "We've got people embracing it
and being very interested in it."
If Tai Chi is proven to reduce arthritis symptoms, it could
become a cheap and fairly simple treatment for the various forms of
the condition. Typically, Tai Chi classes are inexpensive or free,
Callahan said, and in this study, people with arthritis could
participate even if they preferred to sit rather than stand.
In the study, the researchers randomly assigned 247 people --
almost all female and white, and diagnosed with various types of
arthritis -- to attend one-hour, twice-weekly, Tai Chi classes for
two months, or to take the Tai Chi classes at a later time. The
classes were designed by the Arthritis Foundation. The participants
were from 20 sites in New Jersey and North Carolina, and they had
to be able to move without assistance to be eligible.
The researchers took reports from all the participants on their
levels of pain, fatigue, stiffness and physical function before the
study began and at the eight-week evaluation period. They were also
asked to rate themselves on their overall health, their
psychological state (such as perceived helplessness), and how well
they could perform daily activities.
The participants were also tested on their strength and physical
performance by using a timed chair stand (which evaluates lower leg
strength), their walking gait (both normal and fast) and two
balance tests (a single leg stand and a reach test.)
Callahan said she couldn't yet quantify the improvements by
percentage, but the available data suggest that participants felt
mildly to moderately better and improved their sense of well-being.
They also slept better, she said.
Tai Chi appears to provide both physical and mental benefits,
she added. "The whole program is designed to help people be relaxed
and think about their breathing, think about their movements.
Everything is slow and deliberate and purposeful."
The findings of the study -- which was funded in part by the
Arthritis Foundation and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention -- were recently released at the annual scientific
meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in Atlanta.
Myeong Soo Lee, a principal researcher with the Korea Institute
of Oriental Medicine in Daejeon, South Korea, said the study is
"rigorous" but has limitations. For one thing, it didn't break down
the benefits by arthritis type, she noted.
There's evidence to support Tai Chi to reduce the symptoms of
knee arthritis, but not for rheumatoid arthritis, said Lee, who has
studied Tai Chi and arthritis.
While the findings may add weight to the case for Tai Chi as a
treatment for some forms of arthritis, Lee said more information is
needed before it could become a blanket prescription.
Since the study was presented at a conference, its findings and
conclusions should be regarded as preliminary until it is published
in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
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