Tai Chi Offers Additional Option for OA Sufferers
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Researchers from Tufts previously have reported that tai chi is more effective than no treatment among patients with rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or knee OA. Now, the same research group has conducted a randomized trial to compare standard physical therapy and tai chi in 204 patients with knee OA. Tai chi sessions were 60 minutes twice weekly for 12 weeks; physical therapy sessions were 30 minutes twice weekly for six weeks, with close phone monitoring for another six weeks. Assessors were blinded to treatment assignments.

Tai chi is described in the study as “traditional Chinese mind-body practice that combines meditation with slow, gentle, graceful movements; deep diaphragmatic breathing; and relaxation.”

At 12, 24 and 52 weeks, mean pain scores had improved similarly in both groups, and outcomes in the two groups were similar for most secondary measures, including physical function, medication use and overall quality of life. However, the tai chi group showed statistically superior improvement in the secondary measures of depression and the physical component of a quality-of-life measure at 12 weeks.

One limitation of many studies of tai chi is that some of its effect may be related to the personality or charisma of the instructor. In this new study, the investigators thought of that and compared different instructors; no differences between them were noted.

The research adds to the growing body of literature that supports noninvasive therapies for patients with knee OA.

Does this mean you should choose tai chi instead of physical therapy if you have knee osteoarthritis? No, as the main finding of the study was that both treatments were similarly effective at relieving pain. But it does lend credibility to the idea that tai chi can be helpful. It’s also known to have many more benefits besides pain relief, and it’s considered very safe.

More generally, here are four ways exercise can help arthritis:

  1. It can deliver a better range of motion
  2. It leads to stronger muscles
  3. The improvements to endurance strengthen your heart and lungs, increasing overall health
  4. Better balance decreases risk of injury to joints from falls and spills

The limits to pharmacology as a long-term solution to many health problems become more and more manifest with each new study, it seems. Having strength- and balance-enhancing activities such as tai chi in your arsenal of treatments for conditions like OA is a wise choice that can improve your overall health and quality of life in addition to alleviating the pain of arthritis itself.

The Lancet, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30002-2/abstracts

BMJ, 2015 Mar 31; 350:h1225, http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1225

CDC, MMWR, 2016, Vol. 65, No. 1, pp. 1-49, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/rr/rr6501e1.htm

Ann Intern Med, May 2016, e-pub,http://dx.doi.org/10.7326/M15-2143

Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2011, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 425-431, http://europepmc.org/search;jsessionid=vjGYqIVoxJbupWvMIpeP.0?page=1&query=
JOURNAL:%22Med+Sci+Sports+Exerc%22

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