What is tai chi and does it help with osteoarthritis symptoms?

Grant Cooper Health Guide
  • What is tai chi and does it help with the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

    Tai chi has been described as "meditation in motion." It was originally developed over 2,000 years ago in China as a form of self-defense. Today, millions across the world practice tai chi for its potential health benefits including:

    • Decreased stress
    • Increased flexibility
    • Increased strength
    • Increased energy
    • Increased concentration
    • Reduced anxiety
    • Reduced falls
    • Improved cardiovascular fitness

    Does tai chi help for the pain and decreased function associated with osteoarthritis?
    In 2007, Fransen et al., published their clinical findings in Arthritis and Rheumatism. They reported that patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis who were given access to tai chi or hydrotherapy classes received large and sustained clinical improvements in pain and function when compared with a similar group of patients who were put on a waiting list for the same classes. Another 2007 study by Brismee et al. found that patients with knee osteoarthritis who went to 40-minute tai chi sessions three times a week for six weeks, followed by another six weeks of home tai chi training had lower pain and improved function when compared with a similar group of patients who only received health lectures as their treatment intervention.

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    In 2008, Lee, Pittler, and Ernst published a study in Clinical Rheumatology that reviewed the available literature on the effectiveness of tai chi for osteoarthritis. They included five randomized clinical trials and seven non-randomized clinical trials in their review and found that there was "encouraging evidence suggesting that tai chi may be effective for pain control in patients with knee osteoarthritis." But, they also noted that the evidence was not "convincing." In the end, they concluded that more research with more patients was needed.

    Is tai chi right for you?
    Only your doctor can help you determine if participating in a tai chi class may be appropriate for you. Always talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program to make sure that it is safe for you to participate. Tai chi has many reported potential health benefits. More studies are needed to determine if these benefits can be conclusively validated through the scientific process. If you and your doctor feel that it is safe and advisable for you to participate with tai chi, use it as part of a more comprehensive approach to the treatment of osteoarthritis.


    While tai chi may be a terrific exercise, it does not replace targeted stretching and strengthening of the muscles surrounding painful joints. The comprehensive approach to treating osteoarthritis should include diet, exercise (including targeted exercise at the key muscles surrounding involved joints), and, potentially, supplements.





    Lee MS. Pittler MH. Ernst E. Tai chi for osteoarthritis: a systematic review. Clinical Rheumatology. 27(2):211-8, 2008 Feb.

    Fransen M. Nairn L. Winstanley J. Lam P. Edmonds J. Physical activity for osteoarthritis management: a randomized controlled clinical trial evaluating hydrotherapy or Tai Chi classes. Arthritis & Rheumatism. 57(3):407-14, 2007 Apr 15.


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    Song R. Lee EO. Lam P. Bae SC. Effects of a Sun-style Tai Chi exercise on arthritic symptoms, motivation and the performance of health behaviors in women with osteoarthritis. Daehan Ganho Haghoeji. 37(2):249-56, 2007 Mar.



Published On: August 11, 2008