Chronic osteoarthritis is a painful and sometimes disabling condition that affects up to twenty million people in the United States. While there are a variety of prescription and non-prescription medications to treat the pain and inflammation associated with this chronic disease, the side effects can be significant. This is particularly true in light of the recent scrutiny of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Celebrex.
What if there was a way to decrease the pain and disability of chronic osteoarthritis without resorting to potentially harmful prescription medications? A recent study published in Family Practice News shows that tai chi may provide an effective way to increase function and joint mobility in patients who suffer from chronic osteoarthritis.
In this study, participants attended hour long tai chi classes twice a week for three months. A second control group did only stretching exercises. The results? The group that attended the tai chi classes reported significantly lower pain scores than those who attended stretching classes. The tai chi participants also showed improvements in physical function scores suggesting that tai chi classes may have helped to improve joint mobility. Interestingly, those participants who stopped the classes after the study was completed had their pain scores return to baseline while those who continued to practice tai chi showed continual improvement.
It’s not surprising that tai chi might have beneficial effects on the pain associated with chronic osteoarthritis. Tai chi with its slow controlled exercises and meditative components has shown benefits in treating other mental and physical conditions. This is an example of a therapy that most people can do with little risk of injury and without strenuous exertion. The meditative aspects of the sport are likely to have a calming effect on the mind which can also help with pain control. In addition, tai chi promotes balances, flexibility, and strength.
Movement is especially important for the treatment of chronic osteoarthritis since it helps to lubricate the joints and reduce muscle atrophy and stiffness. While many people who suffer from this disease restrict their activity level due to pain, this can make the symptoms worse. Performing low impact movements such as those performed in tai chi are likely to be far more effective than practicing a sedentary lifestyle.
If you suffer from chronic osteoarthritis should you consider tai chi? While you should always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, tai chi may have benefits in the form of reduced pain and increased mobility. Since the risk of injury when performing tai chi is low, there’s little downside to giving it a try. At the very least, it can help to take the focus away from the pain and give you more mental clarity.