Can 'Chi' Ease Arthritis Pain?
"Tai chi for arthritis appears to make sense from many
perspectives" says Spiera. "It is a gentle form of exercise, and we
know that in arthritis, anything that improves people's mobility is good for
their musculoskeletal health. Some of my patients feel it has really helped
In one small study, eight people with chronic arthritis pain,
between 68 and 87 years old, participated in 10 weekly tai chi sessions, while
another group of eight people carried out their usual activities. The people
who took the tai chi classes reported their level of pain decreased
significantly, while pain levels in the other group increased.
"Because tai chi combines meditation with slow, circular
motions, it's an ideal exercise for elderly people, says Patricia Adler, MSN,
RN, lead author of the study.
In this study, "People were encouraged to practice daily
but not worry about remembering or practicing all the movements," Adler
says. "Many of them said they felt more relaxed and energized after the
Oriental medicine is based on a principle called energetics,
Cyrus says. "The premise is that chi is an underlying force which supports
anatomical and physiological functioning. By balancing chi you promote health
and well-being. We do not treat a specific biomedical complaint, we reframe
that complaint as patterns of disharmony in the energetic system."
Peterson, a physician who is also an acupuncturist, uses very
different words to explain how it may work.
"This is a powerful and elegant modality," she says.
"Studies have shown that acupuncture needles stimulate sensory nerves,
which send signals to the spinal cord, resulting in the release of [chemicals
called] endorphins, which are natural pain-blockers. One animal study found
acupuncture increased blood cortisol levels. Since cortisols are natural
steroids, acupuncture may have a generalized anti-inflammatory effect, thus
reducing pain from arthritis."
But however acupuncture works, there are so many stories
suggesting it's helpful that people who haven't gotten relief from conventional
medicine are understandably tempted to give it a try.
If you do try acupuncture, you shouldn't expect to feel better
the moment you have your first treatment. It sometimes works more slowly than a
medicine like aspirin or ibuprofen, Peterson says, but may have a longer
effect. "Patients often start out with a course of 4-10 treatments, and
usually experience benefit after the first several treatments," she
"There is a cumulative effect, depending on the degree of
dysfunction," agrees Cyrus. "In my experience, diet is also very
important. People with acute arthritis should avoid highly acidic foods and the
nightshade family of plants, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and
Many states license acupuncturists, usually after they pass a
national certification exam. To find an acupuncturist with broad training in
oriental medicine, consult the American Association of Oriental Medicine in
Catasauqua, Penn. To find a physician who is trained in acupuncture, consult
the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture in Los Angeles.