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Tai Chi for Arthritis

For people dealing with arthritis, tai chi may help ease pain and improve physical function. Tai chi (a type of exercise that combines graceful movement, meditation, and deep breathing) also appears to help enhance quality of life for some people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. What’s more, tai chi could provide a gentle way for arthritis patients to increase their physical activity — an important part of the self-care process for people coping with arthritis pain and stiffness.

Tai Chi and Osteoarthritis

There is “some encouraging evidence” that tai chi may be useful for pain control in people with osteoarthritis of the knee (the most common type of arthritis), according to a research review published in 2008 in the journal Clinical Rheumatology. However, after combining the results of 12 studies on tai chi and osteoarthritis, the review’s authors failed to find convincing evidence of tai chi’s effectiveness in reducing arthritis pain or improving physical function.

However, in a small but high-quality study published in 2009, researchers found that tai chi reduced pain and improved physical function, depression, and health-related quality of life for people with osteoarthritis of the knee. The clinical trial involved 40 patients; one group took part in an hour-long tai chi session twice weekly for 12 weeks, while a second group was assigned to wellness education and stretching sessions.

Although few studies have looked at tai chi’s effectiveness for other types of osteoarthritis, one trial published in 2007 shows that the exercise may improve physical function for older, sedentary individuals with osteoarthritis of the hip.

Tai Chi for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Tai chi has significant benefits on range of motion for people with rheumatoid arthritis, a 2004 research review shows. The review’s authors analyzed four trials (with a total of 206 participants) and concluded that tai chi does not exacerbate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. However, the review also found that tai chi had no significant effect on joint tenderness, swelling, or activities of daily living.

A few small studies published after the 2004 review suggest that the exercise may offer additional benefits for rheumatoid arthritis patients. For instance, a 2008 trial involving 20 people with rheumatoid arthritis (published in Arthritis and Rheumatism)found that 12 weeks of twice-weekly tai chi sessions led to improvements in disease activity, depression, and health-related quality of life.

Using Tai Chi for Arthritis

For people with arthritis, regular exercise (including tai chi) may help strengthen the muscles surrounding affected joints, reduce joint stiffness, and decrease joint swelling. Moreover, regularly performing tai chi and/or other kinds of exercise may also help boost mood and alleviate anxiety for people struggling with arthritis pain.

While tai chi may offer some benefits to arthritis patients, it’s important not to rely solely on tai chi in treatment of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. If you’re interested in using tai chi to help manage your arthritis, talk with your doctor about creating an exercise program that suits your lifestyle, needs, and physical limitations.


Fransen M, Nairn L, Winstanley J, Lam P, Edmonds J. “Physical activity for osteoarthritis management: a randomized controlled clinical trial evaluating hydrotherapy or Tai Chi classes.” Arthritis Rheum. 2007 15;57(3):407-14.

Lee MS, Pittler MH, Ernst E. “Tai chi for osteoarthritis: a systematic review.” Clin Rheumatol. 2008 27(2):211-8.

Han A, Robinson V, Judd M, Taixiang W, Wells G, Tugwell P. “Tai chi for treating rheumatoid arthritis.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(3):CD004849.

Uhlig T, Fongen C, Steen E, Christie A, Ødegård S. “Exploring Tai Chi in rheumatoid arthritis: a quantitative and qualitative study.” BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2010 Mar 5;11:43.

Wang C. “Tai Chi improves pain and functional status in adults with rheumatoid arthritis: results of a pilot single-blinded randomized controlled trial.” Med Sport Sci. 2008;52:218-29.

Wang C, Schmid CH, Hibberd PL, Kalish R, Roubenoff R, Rones R, McAlindon T. “Tai Chi is effective in treating knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial.” Arthritis Rheum. 2009 15;61(11):1545-53.


June 17, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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