How Does the Tai Chi for Arthritis Program Work?

Dr Paul Lam
A brief discussion of how this program helps people with arthritis.

Copyrights 2005 Dr Paul Lam, photocopy for educational purpose permitted. You may give this article to your fee-paying students but not sell to them.

Tai Chi workshop in Sydney 2005Exercise is known to benefit most aspects of health and is recognised as an essential part of the management of arthritis. Pain, stiffness, and fear of further damage can deter people with arthritis from exercising. However, without regular exercise, joints become stiffer and more painful, muscles lose strength, bones weaken, stamina diminishes, blood circulation slows, and the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes increases.

The answer is to develop an exercise program that is safe and effective for your own condition and capabilities. Tai Chi is an ideal choice since it involves a variety of movements that work on all aspects of your fitness and well-being.

Flexibility exercises work on how far you can move your joints (range-of-motion) and how easily they move. Stiff joints are difficult and painful to move. Tai Chi gently moves all the joints, muscles and tendons of the body.

Strengthening exercises maintain and increase muscle strength. With strong muscles to support them, your joints are more stable and protected from injury. The slow, controlled movements of Tai Chi build up muscle strength in your legs, arms and trunk.

David Dean, 65, gains relief from Tai Chi for Arthritis and is teaching othersStamina or cardiovascular exercises increase the work of your heart and lungs, thereby improving the blood and oxygen supply circulating through your body. Regular practice of Tai Chi improves cardiovascular fitness.

Posture exercises correctly align your spine and open your lungs. Tai Chi focuses on an upright posture throughout. Coordination and balance exercises help integrate the way your body moves in everyday activities. With good balance and coordination, you can perform tasks more efficiently and are less likely to fall. Tai Chi incorporates simultaneous arm and leg movements to challenge your coordination and balance.

Mind-body techniques show how the power of the mind can help heal the body. Feelings of stress and depression are common with arthritis. Tai Chi integrates mind and body, using the conscious mind to direct the internal force that, in turn, directs each movement. When practising Tai Chi, you focus on the performance of each movement. The mental training of Tai Chi enhances the clarity of your mind, releases stress and uplifts your mood.

According to Chinese medicine, arthritis is the result of the weak and sluggish flow of Qi through the meridians. The slow and gentle movements of Tai Chi open up your energy channels and the rhythmic movements of the muscles, joints and spine pump energy through the whole body. Tai Chi is one of the most effective exercises for cultivating Qi.Dr Lam at the New Zealand Tai Chi for Arthritis Instructors' training workshop

In a randomized controlled study published by the Journal of Rheumatology Sept 2003, a group of women with osteoarthritis (OA) practised the Tai Chi for Arthritis program for 12 weeks. Compared to a control group, who received only standard treatment, the tai chi group reported significantly less pain (approx. 30%) and fewer difficulties in carrying out their daily activities (30%), as well as improved balance (30%). The researchers from the Korean National University concluded that Tai Chi for Arthritis is a safe and effective form of exercise for older people with OA.

Click here for a more detailed article with references cited.