Chi Can Aid Arthritis Sufferers
(HealthScoutNews) -- As anyone
who suffers arthritis will tell you, exercise can be a necessary,
but painful, part of treatment.
Now, a study of 72 arthritis sufferers from South Korea suggests
that the ancient form of martial arts known as Tai Chi can offer
crucial health benefits to these patients, without the pain normally
associated with other exercise.
"It's very difficult for osteoarthritis patients to do any
type of exercise, because exercise could make their symptoms worse,"
says lead author Rhayun Song.
Tai Chi involves a series of graceful movements and poses that
some describe as a dance in slow motion. Once mastered, the movements
are believed to improve balance, circulation and muscle function.
Apart from swimming, which can be difficult and costly, experts
say Tai Chi is one of the only fitness activities that arthritis
patients can safely perform without increasing their pain or risk
"Tai Chi is proven quite safe for their symptoms, and best
about this exercise is that they don't need any equipment or [special]
clothes. They can do Tai Chi ... any time during their daily life,"
Among the most important benefits of Tai Chi, says Song, is improved
balance. This can reduce the risk of falls, particularly for the
"Elderly people with osteoarthritis are quite vulnerable
to falls, and this is one of [the] great health risks later [in]
life," says Song.
For Dr. James Dillard, who has studied the medical benefits of
Tai Chi, the research is important. But he adds, the study group
was too small to jump to any clinical conclusions.
"I think any type of exercise an arthritis patient can safely
and easily perform is bound to offer benefits, and so far we don't
know if Tai Chi has any specific benefits over and above other
types of regular movement, such as stretching," says Dillard.
However, he concedes it's likely that Tai Chi may provide some
benefits that have yet to be medically understood.
"My Western medical training tells me that Tai Chi should
not offer anything more than any other form of exercise; my Eastern
training reminds me that not all benefits can be easily measured,"
The South Korean study involved 72 osteoarthritis patients. Each
person was sent to a sports medicine center for a series of computerized
tests designed to measure balance and muscle strength of the back,
knees and abdomen, as well as grip strength. Additional testing
was performed to determine functional status, along with levels
of pain and stiffness.
Patients were then randomly assigned to one of two groups: 38
took Tai Chi classes for 12 weeks; 34 received standard treatment,
mainly pain medication.
Although the dropout rate was high -- only 22 patients completed
the classes and 21 were left in the control group -- researchers
say enough data was collected to analyze the results.
After re-testing the people, Song says that the patients who
took the Tai Chi classes showed more improvement in symptoms,
balance and functioning, and abdominal strength.
Although increases in flexibility and knee muscle strength were
also seen in the Tai Chi group, they were not considered statistically
significant. However, Song is certain that will change when larger
study groups are used.
"We need a bigger sample size to buffer individual differences
and find out the significant difference between groups,"
Dillard also believes a larger study group will show whether
Tai Chi is better than other forms of exercise for arthritis sufferers.
"Improved balance is an important benefit from Tai Chi,
but it would be important to discover whether or not it can also
offer other benefits to arthritis patients, particularly an increase
in muscle strength, which might help decrease some pain,"
Study results were presented at the recent annual meeting of
the American College of Rheumatology in San Francisco.
In a second, unrelated study, also presented at the conference,
a group of Chinese researchers offered evidence that Tai Chi may
help women with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that
damages the joints. Although the study is ongoing, researchers
say preliminary data suggests Tai Chi may offer these women increased
cardiovascular functioning, as well as an increase in grip strength.
"I believe that as we go forward with testing on Tai Chi,
we may come to see a great many more benefits for patients with
many different types of medical problems," Dillard says.
What To Do
To learn more about Tai Chi, click
To learn more about osteoarthritis, visit
The Arthritis Foundation.
Reference Source 101