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The movements of tai chi are gentle, graceful, mystical -- and a safe way to relieve arthritis pain and gain balance, strength, and flexibility. Tai chi is one of many alternative therapies that can provide relief from pain, possibly letting you cut back on pain medications.

Early mornings in large and small cities in China - and in America's parks, hospitals, and community centers - people are practicing tai chi. It is an ancient tradition said to have developed in medieval China, to help restore health of monks in poor physical condition from too much meditation and too little exercise.

Chi (pronounced chee) is the Chinese word for energy. In the healing arts, tai chi is used to promote the movement of energy through the body -- similar to blood being pumped through the body, explains Cate Morrill, a certified tai chi instructor in Atlanta. Morrill spends much of her time teaching classes to  people with arthritis who are often unfamiliar with this practice. "But after five, 10, 15 minutes of tai chi, they report having pain relief," she tells WebMD.

Virtually all major health organizations - including the Arthritis Foundation -- recommend tai chi because it provides balance of body and mind.  It is particularly useful for people with arthritis due to its low-impact nature. If you have arthritis and considering tai chi, be sure to talk with your doctor first, just as you should for any type of exercise program. Then, with your doctor’s approval, give tai chi a try.

"The movements of tai chi keep the body fresh and allow the person to find a freer range of motion in the joints, greater flexibility, better balance," Morrill explains. Tai chi is often called "moving meditation," because it is relaxing, because the focus is on breathing and creating inner stillness -- quieting the mind, relaxing the body. When people focus on breathing and on the movements, they aren't focused on their worldly worries.

"Everyday stuff like gardening and cleaning the house -- even basic moves like getting in and out of a bathtub - are easier when muscles are strong and flexible, when there is proper balance and body alignment," Morrill tells WebMD.

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