How Tai Chi Helps Reduce Osteoarthritis Pain

Tai Chi in the Morning

Winter can be tough on people of any age and health status, but those living with osteoarthritis often find it especially difficult. Researchers believe cold or damp weather can increase stiffness and swelling in joints. Both result in pain that might lead arthritis suffers to become more sedentary. While there are medications that treat arthritis, many have side effects people often say are too uncomfortable.

Physicians frequently recommend that patients with osteoarthritis follow an anti-inflammatory diet and engage in low-impact exercise. While it might be tough to think about working out when you are hurting, physical activity usually pays off over the long run. One kind of exercise that is proving to be very beneficial is a Chinese practice called tai chi. It might be one of the best natural remedies for managing arthritis all year round.

Managing Osteoarthritis Pain With an Ancient Form of Exercise

The go-to treatment for people with osteoarthritis has been physical therapy. A 2016 research study of 200 adults living with osteoarthritis sought to compare the effectiveness of tai chi with traditional physical therapy. Scientists hoped the 12-week trial would prove people who practiced tai chi would find relief from the pain and symptoms associated with this chronic and often debilitating condition.

Participants were split into two groups, with one utilizing physical therapy as their treatment and another practicing tai chi.

  • Physical therapy: The physical therapy participants’ activity was broken into two 6-week periods. During the first 6 weeks, people attended two 30-minute sessions of one-on-one physical therapy. For the next 6 weeks, they each practiced physical therapy at home, closely monitored by the study’s team leaders.
  • Tai chi: The tai chi group learned how to practice tai chi. They participated in two 1-hour tai chi sessions every week for all 12 weeks of the study. During this time, each person was taught how to perform the movements that make up this joint-friendly form of exercise.

When the study was finished, both groups reported an improvement in their pain. But the tai chi group experienced the greatest progress. The participants who practiced tai chi said not only was their pain reduced or gone, but they also felt better physically and mentally.

Understanding the Health Benefits of Tai Chi

How can such a slow-moving form of exercise offer so much improvement in mental and physical well-being? Experts say the answer is that it helps with muscle mass and flexibility.

  • Flexibility: Because activity can cause severe pain in damaged joints, those living with arthritis may become sedentary. That inactivity can cause joints to become even stiffer, further limiting mobility. Tai chi is composed of gentle but steady stretching exercises. The slow, thoughtful practice results in greater flexibility, helping to relieve pain and swelling.
  • Muscle mass: Strengthening the muscles that surround damaged joints also helps reduce arthritis pain. This is another benefit of tai chi. The slow, consistent movements of this ancient form of exercise help build and strengthen muscle mass. That helps take pressure off damaged joints, which reduces pain and swelling.
  • Overall fitness: Until you try it for yourself, tai chi might not appear to be a serious fitness activity. While it is low-impact, people who practice it regularly have good overall strength and stamina. They also learn to master healthy breathing techniques that aid in reducing stress and restoring calm.

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