How Does Tai Chi for Arthritis Work?

 
 
By: Dr Paul Lam

© Copyrights Tai Chi Productions 2007. All rights reserved, no part of this article may be reproduced in any forms or by any means, without permission in writing, except for non-profit educational purpose. For example: you can photocopy this article for a paying student or participant as long as this article is not included as part of your charge.

NB: The Tai Chi for Arthritis Program is the same as the Tai Chi for Arthritis for Fall Prevention Program which was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 2013 in America and evidenced based. Both programs have exactly the same movements and incorporated tai chi principles for improving health and wellness, as well as proven effective for fall prevention. The former has slightly more emphasis on arthritis while the later on fall prevention.

Tai Chi for Arthritis workshop Brisbane Australia 2006Synopsis
Since the inception of Tai Chi for Arthritis in 1997, over five million people around the world have enjoyed using the program and gained health benefits. Studies have shown its effect in relieving pain, improving physical ability and balance. Arthritis Foundations around the world support the program and instructors trained by the creator, Dr Paul Lam and his authorised master trainers.
 
Exercise Helps Arthritis
Exercise or being active is essential for good health, it is even more important for people with arthritis. Pain and stiffness of the joints tend to discourage and even limit people from exercising. However, without exercise, joints become stiffer and muscles weaker which will lead to further pain and stiffness. In another word, without exercise arthritis gets worse in the long term. Exercise keeps bones, muscles, and joints healthy, thus improving flexibility and muscular strength. Exercise improves the circulation of blood and body fluids through muscles, tendons and joints. Better circulation will aid the healing process.
 
Tai Chi for Arthritis workshop in Sydney 2005
What Kind of Exercise?
Not all exercises are suitable for people with arthritis. An effective exercise program should have low risk of injury and fulfil three objectives: increase flexibility, strengthen muscles, and improve cardiorespiratory fitness. Tai Chi for Arthritis can accomplish these and more.
 
The Tai Chi for Arthritis Program
In 1997, Dr Paul Lam’s team of Tai Chi and medical experts designed the program Tai Chi for Arthritis especially for people with arthritis. This program is based on Sun style Tai Chi for its unique Qigong component which has a powerful healing ability. It contains all the essential principles of Tai Chi and the movements are safe. It is short and easy-to-learn. Tai Chi for Arthritis helps arthritis by improving muscular strength, flexibility and fitness. Studies have shown the program to be effective and safe (referencesand 2). Arthritis Foundations of Australia, America, Arthritis Care UK and many others support this program because its efficacy and safe features.
 
1. Improved Flexibility
Improved flexibility will reduce stiffness and help keep joints mobile. Stiffness causes pain; increase flexibility will relieve pain.  Tai Chi for Arthritis gently moves all joints, muscles and tendons throughout the body. Scientific studies have shown Tai Chi can significantly increase flexibility (references 34 and 5).     
  .
The Atlanta FICSIT Group (reference 6) conducted a prospective, randomised, controlled clinical trial. The study divided 200 participants into three groups: Tai Chi, computerised balance training and control. The results indicated that Tai Chi significantly improved flexibility, strength and cardiovascular endurance, as well as decreased the occurrence of falls by a massive 47.5%.Tai Chi for children with and without arthritis 2008
 
Tai Chi for Arthritis contains all the essential principles of Tai Chi that support the improvement of flexibility. It has shown to relieve arthritic pain, helping people with arthritis to stretch more thus further improve their flexibility. What is more, it prevents recurrent falls by an amazing 70% (reference 7).
 
2. Improved Muscular Strength
Improved muscular strength will help keep joints stable, thereby protecting the joints. This minimises the likelihood of injury and reduces pain. Increased muscular strength enables a person to be more active, which in turn improves blood and body fluid circulation.
Many top level athletes and sportsmen have suffered from osteoarthritis as a result of injuries. Yet they are able to perform at peak levels because their strong muscles protecting their joints. Frequently, after retirement from active sports, their level of activity diminishes and their muscles become weak, causing their arthritis to flare up.
 
Studies have shown Tai Chi to be effective in strengthening muscles by 15 to 20 % (references 891011 and 12). Tai Chi for Arthritis helps to relieve pain, enable people with arthritis to exercise their muscles to improve its strength.  The Song study showed an improvement of learners’ physical function and balance by 30% after only three months of learning Tai Chi for Arthritis  (reference 1).
 
Tai Chi for Arthritis workshop in USA 2005
3. Improved Fitness
Improving cardiorespiratory fitness helps strengthen the heart and lungs and increases stamina. Arthritic joints and tissues need a good supply of blood and oxygen for healing. Better circulation of blood, fluid and oxygen also helps keep joints flexible and muscles strong. Tai Chi for Arthritis is designed to gradually increase the level of fitness. Study has shown Tai Chi to be effective in improving fitness level  (reference13).
 
The Power of the Mind
It is well known that a positive frame of mind aids healing. There is ample evidence showing the powerful effect of mind over body. Tai Chi integrates both the body and mind. When practicing Tai Chi, one focuses on clarity of the mind, the movements and the coordination of the body. This training improves relaxation and uplifts a person’s mood. A recent review of complementary and alternative treatments completed by doctors from Stanford University (reference 14) concludes that mind-body techniques are efficacious primarily as a complementary treatment, but sometimes as a stand-alone, alternative treatment.
 
Being more relaxed and more positive improves the perception of pain. As one of the most powerful mind-body exercises, Tai Chi for Arthritis teaches students to be mindful of the intrinsic energy from this derives a greater sense of self-control and empowerment.
 
The Power of Qigong
The concept of Qi has been a fundamental belief in most eastern cultures for thousands of years. Qi is the inner energy of a person. Chinese medicine has based their central theory on this concept. The word, “Gong” means exercise that requires regular practice to become proficient. Qigong is the practice of cultivating better Qi. It is a breathing exercise sometimes helped by certain body movements and meditation. When Qi flows through the body smoothly and powerfully, it enhances healing and brings better health and vitality. According to Chinese medicine, arthritis is caused by weak and sluggish flow of Qi. For centuries, doctors of Chinese medicine have recommended Tai Chi for people with arthritis.Dr Lam at a Tai Chi for Arthritis workshop in USA 2006
 
Tai Chi for Arthritis incorporates the Sun style’s unique Qigong in all its movements. The gentle and slow movements open up one’s energy channels, keeping them strong and supple. The rhythmic movements of the muscle, spine and joints pump energy throughout the whole body.
 
The Practical Advantages
Tai Chi for Arthritis is affordable for most people. It does not require expensive equipments, special clothing or much space. It is not weather-dependent and can be a nice social event.
 
Tai Chi is a progressive exercise in the sense that no matter at what age you start, you can develop your skill. As one progresses, the more fascinating it becomes. Tai Chi for Arthritis has great depth. As you progress to a higher level your mind becomes more serene, body becomes stronger and your understanding of Tai Chi principles deepens. This deeper understanding will, in turn, enable you to reach an even higher level. Akin to looking at a very high mountain, it is impossible to see the top from ground level. You will see more of the view when you make the effort to climb higher up. At the higher level, the view becomes more fascinating and the air fresher. At a higher level Tai Chi, you will discover more enjoyment, health benefits and personal fulfilment.
 
Exercise will benefit people only when they do it. Naturally, people are more likely to do the exercise they enjoy. Tai Chi for Arthritis is intrinsically enjoyable exercises that can help people adhere to them. Thousands of Tai Chi for Arthritis instructors around the world will attest to their students’ enjoyment because they keep returning year after year.Tai Chi for arthritis workshop in Sydney 2007
 
Improve Balance and Fall Prevention
Injury from falls by older people is a serious health problem, it is even more so for people with arthritis as pain and weakened muscle compromise their abilities to balance.
Tai Chi for Arthritis has been shown to improve balance and prevent falls by several studies i  . The Sydney Central Area Health Promotion study is community based and the world’s largest fall prevention study with 700 subjects. After 16 weeks of Tai Chi (80% doing Tai Chi for Arthritis), the incident of multiple falls was reduced by an incredible 70% (reference 7).
 
How to Learn Tai Chi for Arthritis
Contact your local arthritis foundation, or use this website to find classes by trained instructors. You can also use the instructional DVD, the book Overcoming Arthritis and other teaching material available from our store to learn the program.
 
back to the top
 

REFERENCES:

1.  Song, Lee E, Lam P, Bae S. Effects of Tai Chi exercise on pain, balance, muscle strength, and physical functioning in older women with osteoarthritis: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Rheumatology. Sept 2003. 30:9 page 2039-2044.

2.  Fransen M, Nairn L, Winstanley J, Lam P,  Edmonds J.  A Randomized Control Trial Of 200 Subjects Comparing Tai Chi, Hydrotherapy And Control, To Measure Improvement In Pain, Physical Function, Muscular Strength And Walking Capacity. Arthritis Care and Research.. Vol.57, No.3, April 15, 2007, pp407-414.

3.  Lan-C; Lai-JS; Wong-MK; Yu-ML:Cardiorespiratory function, flexibility, and body composition among geriatric Tai Chi Chuan practitioners. Arch-Phys-Med-Rehabil. 1996 Jun; 77(6): 612-6.

4.  Lan-C; Lai-JS; Wong-MK; Yu-ML: 12-month Tai Chi training in the elderly: its effect on health fitness. Med-Sci-Sports-Exerc. 1998 Mar; 30(3): 345-51.

5.  Chen,-W.-William; Sun,-Wei-Yue: Tai Chi Chuan, an alternative form of exercise for health promotion and disease prevention for older adults in the community. International-Quarterly-of-Community-Health-Education. 1997; Vol 16(4): 333-339.

6.  Atlanta FICSIT Group: Reducing frailty and falls in older persons: an investigation of Tai Chi and computerized balance training. J-Am-Geriatr-Soc. 1996 May; 44(5): 489-97.

7.  Alexander Voukelatos et all, Journal American Geriatrics Society, AUGUST 2007–VOL. 55, NO. 8, A Randomized, Controlled Trial of tai chi for the Prevention of Falls: The Central Sydney tai chi Trial. (NB: 80% of subjects were taught Tai Chi for Arthritis)

8.  Wolfson-L; Whipple-R; Derby-C; Judge-J; King-M; Amerman-P; Schmidt-J; Smyers-D: Balance and strength training in older adults: intervention gains and Tai Chi maintenance. J-Am-Geriatr-Soc. 1996 May; 44(5): 498-506.

9.  La-Forge-R: Mind-body fitness: encouraging prospects for primary and secondary prevention. J-Cardiovasc-Nurs. 1997 Apr; 11(3): 53-65.

10.  Jacobson-BH; Chen-HC; Cashel-C; Guerrero-L: The effect of T'ai Chi Chuan training on balance, kinesthetic sense, and strength. Percept-Mot-Skills. 1997 Feb; 84(1): 27-33.

11.  Judge-JO; Lindsey-C; Underwood-M; Winsemius-D: Balance improvements in older women: effects of exercise training. Phys-Ther. 1993 Apr; 73(4): 254-62; discussion 263-5.

12.  Wolfson-L; Whipple-R; Judge-J; Amerman-P; Derby-C; King-M: Training balance and strength in the elderly to improve function. J-Am-Geriatr-Soc. 1993 Mar; 41(3): 341-3.

13.  Channer-KS; Barrow-D; Barrow-R; Osborne-M; Ives-G: Changes in haemodynamic parameters following Tai Chi Chuan and aerobic exercise in patients recovering from acute myocardial infarction. Postgrad-Med-J. 1996 Jun; 72(848): 349-51.

14.  Luskin-FM; Newell-KA; Griffith-M; Holmes-M; Telles-S; Marvasti-FF; Pelletier-KR; Haskell-WL: A review of mind-body therapies in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Part 1: Implications for the elderly. Altern-Ther-Health-Med. 1998 May; 4(3): 46-61.

15.  Choi J.H., Moon J.S. and Song R, The Effects of Sun-Style Tai Chi Exercise on Physical Fitness and Fall Prevention in Fall-Prone Adults. The journal of Advanced Nursing 51(2), 150-157, 2005

back to the top