Tai Chi May Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis
Martial Art May Increase Range of Motion in Ankles, Knees
July 21, 2004 -- Practicing the ancient Chinese martial art of
tai chi may help improve the range of motion for people with rheumatoid
arthritis although it may not have a big impact on other aspects of the
disease, according to a new study.
Researchers say that tai chi has been recognized for centuries
as an effective therapy for arthritis, but until now there had not been a
review of the evidence to date on the effectiveness of tai chi on rheumatoid
The results of their review of four studies on the issue show
that although tai chi does not appear to significantly reduce pain or lessen
the severity of the disease, it doesn't have any detrimental effects and may
provide other benefits.
For example, people with rheumatoid arthritis who practiced tai
chi experienced a significant improvement in their range of motion of the
joints of the legs and ankles in particular, and reported higher levels of
participation in and enjoyment of exercise compared with those who participated
in traditional exercise programs.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease that affects the
immune system and causes pain, stiffness, and swelling of the joints.
Treatment of the rheumatoid arthritis usually involves a
variety of approaches designed to reduce pain as well as reduce inflammation,
prevent disability, and slow down the progression of the disease.
Tai chi is a martial art that was developed in the
13th century and is based on the inspiration of a fight between a
crane and a snake. It combines deep breathing and relaxation techniques with
slow and gentle movements while maintaining good postures.
More Research Needed
In the study, which appears in the Cochrane Database of
Systemic Reviews, researchers reviewed four randomized controlled trials
and controlled clinical trials that looked at the benefits and risks of
exercise programs involving tai chi in the treatment of rheumatoid
The four trials studied involved more than 200 people who
practiced tai chi for eight to 10 weeks, received no therapy, or took other
forms of exercise classes.
The review showed that tai chi had little effect on the most
common measures of disease severity, such as the ability to carry out daily
activities or swollen and tender joints. But one study showed that practicing
tai chi produced a significant improvement in the range of motion in the
Researchers say preserving a good range of motion may help
reduce future disability among people with rheumatoid arthritis.
The study also showed that people enrolled in a tai chi program
were much less likely to drop out versus those in the control groups.
Researchers say there still isn't enough evidence on the
effects of tai chi on rheumatoid arthritis to meet the "gold standard"
of scientific research. For example, none of the studies reviewed tested for
improvements in pain or quality if life.
But they say these results are still promising in some
"There is a 'silver' level of evidence that tai chi
improves the range of motion of the ankle, hip, and knee in people with
rheumatoid arthritis," write researcher Alice Han, and colleagues. "It
did not improve people's ability to do chores, joint tenderness, grip strength,
or their number of swollen joints; nor did it increase their symptoms of
rheumatoid arthritis. But people felt that they improved when doing tai chi and