Tai Chi for Arthritis Relief
Exercise for Arthritis
Exercise is frequently recommended for people with arthritis. It can reduce pain, increase mobility, improve sleep, and give you more energy.
One of the hardest parts can be getting started. The American College of Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation recommend that arthritis patients who don’t already exercise begin with a low-intensity exercise regimen. One of the best low-intensity, low-impact forms of exercise is tai chi.
Before beginning any exercise regimen, you should consult with your healthcare provider.
What Is Tai Chi?
T’ai chi ch’uan, or “tai chi,” is a Chinese form of martial arts. It has been practiced for hundreds of years, and the name translates into English as “supreme ultimate fist.” However, in modern times, it has become not only a martial art, but also a popular exercise regimen. Slow, focused exercises, stretching, and deep breathing are some of the main characteristics of tai chi.
There are many styles and schools of tai chi. Some are more martial while others emphasize health benefits. There are long forms with hundreds of movements and short forms with just a few movements. Many adapted styles for arthritis exercise include a short set of ten or twelve “forms” or movements.
Tai chi can be adapted for all fitness levels and abilities.
Does Tai Chi Work?
The 2012 recommendations from the American College of Rheumatology include tai chi as a non-drug therapy for knee osteoarthritis. There are more and more clinical studies showing that tai chi can help with some arthritis problems. A review in Clinical Rheumatology found that tai chi is effective for osteoarthritis pain control.
A 2010 study out of Norway has shown that tai chi is useful for treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It was found to improve lower limb muscle function, movement confidence, and balance. There was also an overall reduction in pain during exercise and the activities of daily life. A recent study on RA has shown wide psychosocial benefits to tai chi practice for RA patients, including improved self-esteem and motivation, as well as a reduction in anxiety and depression.
Tai Chi Movements
There are many different schools of tai chi. The most popular styles are the Yang, Chen, and Sun styles. The basic movements used for most arthritis routines come from the Yang style. These movements require only minimal strength, speed, endurance, and flexibility in order to participate.
Tai chi moves include steps in patterns, standing poses, and simple arm movements. Basic movements include simply raising the hands to shoulder height while standing with a straight spine. For instance, curving your hands behind your back for three pulses is the form called “repulse monkey.” Stepping smoothly sideways with certain arm movements is a form called “grasp peacock’s tail.”
Essentials of Tai Chi
According to the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, there are ten essentials of tai chi:
- “Straightening the head”
- “Containing the chest and raising the back”
- “Distinguishing insubstantial and substantial”
- “Sinking the shoulders and elbows”
- “Using consciousness, not strength”
- “Upper and lower following one another”
- “Uniting internal and external”
- “Tranquility in movement”
The purpose of these essentials, or principles, is ensuring that people who practice tai chi do it correctly, with the smooth, calm movements that it calls for.
Tai Chi – Portable Exercise
Although some tai chi schools use swords, fans, or even spears, most tai chi practice can be done simply in comfortable clothes, anywhere, and at any time.
Tai chi can be done at home, in a park, or in a class. It can be done alone or in groups. It can be done while seated in a chair, or with a chair or walker nearby for balance. It can even be done in the water! Basically, it can happen anywhere the practitioner feels comfortable.
Without special equipment or special clothes, tai chi is an easy exercise for anybody to participate in.
Finding a Tai Chi Class
The Arthritis Foundation certifies several tai chi classes. Sessions in these tai chi programs include warm-up and cool-down exercises, and 12 forms or movements. They also offer a DVD with step-by-step instructions for learning tai chi at home.
There is an alternate form of tai chi increasingly popular in the US called tai chi chih. It is a set of 19 movements that is designed for maximum health benefits. Classes are offered in community centers and senior centers around the country.
Benefits for Many
The Arthritis Foundation’s tai chi program was studied by the University of North Carolina. The program showed benefits for many types of arthritis, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis. There were decreases in self-reported pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
Tai chi shows real benefits for those living with arthritis. It is simple to begin, and easy to continue with minimal training. Many arthritis patients can benefit from the simple, smooth movements of tai chi. It is important to remember to talk with your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise regimen, in order to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for your needs.
- Community Programs for Better Living: Tai Chi. (2013). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.arthritis.org/resources/community-programs/tai-chi/
- Exercise and Arthritis. (2012). American College of Rheumatology. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.rheumatology.org/Practice/Clinical/Patients/Diseases_And_Conditions/Exercise_and_Arthritis/
- Hochberg, M. et al. (2012). American College of Rheumatology 2012 recommendations for the use of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic therapies in osteoarthritis of hand, hip and knee. Arthritis Care Res., 64(4), 465-674. Retrieved September 24, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22563589
- Lee, M. et al. (2008). Tai chi for Osteoarthritis: a Systemic Review. Clinical Rheumatology, 27(2), 211-218. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10067-007-0700-4
- Li, F. et al. (2003). A Simpler Eight-Form Easy Tai Chi for Elderly Adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 11, 206-218. Retrieved September 24, 2013, from http://www.attainmentcompany.com/sites/default/files/pdf/sample/ar-taichiarticle.pdf
- Study: Tai Chi relieves arthritis pain, improves reach, balance, well-being. (2010). University North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Retrieved September 25, 2013, from http://www.med.unc.edu/www/newsarchive/2010/november/study-tai-chi-relieves-arthritis-pain-improves-reach-balance-well-being
- T’ai Chi Chih Teachers. (2013). T’ai Chi Chih. Retrieved September 25, 2013, from http://www.taichichih.org/the-teachers/
- Uhlig, T. et al. (2010). Exploring Tai Chi in rheumatoid arthritis: a quantitative and qualitative study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 11(43). Retrieved September 25, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2845097/
- Waite-Jones, J. et al. (2013). Psychosocial effects of Tai Chi exercise on people with rheumatoid arthritis. J. Clin. Nursing. doi: 10.1111/jocn.12327. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jocn.12327