Tai chi helps arthritis pain, stiffness
November 7th, 2010
05:00 PM ET

Tai chi helps arthritis pain, stiffness

The ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi may be  an effective  way to help alleviate problems associated with arthritis, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine report.

An estimated 50 million adults in the U.S. have  some form of arthritis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although many of these people turn to medication to help them deal with the pain, the medical community continues to look for ways to help these patients.

Tai chi was originally used to train Chinese warriors before they went into battle. Today it's a popular form of exercise. Tai chi classes incorporate slow movements and balance, helping participants concentrate on the connection between the mind and the body.

In this study, researchers followed 354 participants who were recruited from 20 sites in states of North Carolina and New Jersey. To be eligible for the study, participants had to have a diagnosis of some form of arthritis. Once they were selected, the patients were randomly assigned into two groups. One group received an eight-week, twice-weekly tai chi course immediately; the other group delayed  classes for eight weeks.

After the first eight weeks, all participants were asked about their state of health, the amount of pain they were having and whether they were experiencing any other discomfort. Pain, fatigue, stiffness and other physical functions, such as balance and gait speed were measured.

"At the end of eight weeks the individuals who had received the intervention showed moderate improvements in pain, fatigue and stiffness," said Dr. Leigh Callahan, the study's lead author and a member of UNC's Thurston Arthritis Research Center. "They also had an increased sense of well-being, as measured by the psychosocial variables, and they had improved reach or balance."

After the second group finished its eight weeks of tai chi classes,  its members, too, saw improvements.

"Our study shows that there are significant benefits of the tai chi course for individuals with all types of arthritis, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis," Callahan said. "We found this in both rural and urban settings across a Southeastern state and a Northeastern state."

Other rsearch has show similar results.  In August,  the New England Journal of Medicine reported that fibromyalgia patients who took tai chi classes twice a week for three months experienced less pain, stiffness, and fatigue than a group who went to lifestyle education and stretching sessions.

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