Tai chi is effective in the treatment of pain and physical impairment in people with severe knee osteoarthritis, according to recent research.
Osteoarthritis (OA), is the most common joint disease affecting middle-age and older people. OA in the knee and hip areas can generate chronic pain or discomfort during standing or walking. According to the Centers for Disease Control, knee OA affects 240 people out of every 100,000 people annually.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese exercise that uses an integrated mind-body approach to enhance muscle function, balance, and flexibility, and has been known to reduce pain, depression, and anxiety in those who practice the exercise.
The researchers set out to determine if tai chi could successfully treat the physical and mental effects of severe knee OA. A total of 40 patients were randomly chosen to participate in the study. On average they were 65 years old and moderately overweight, and had knee OA for approximately 10 years; 75% of the patients were female and 70% were Caucasian.
Participants were introduced to either tai chi (10 modified forms from the classical Yang style) or to conventional stretching and wellness education. Each group received the intervention twice-weekly for 60 minutes over the course of 12 weeks. Patients were evaluated with a self assessment questionnaire (WOMAC) that evaluates pain, stiffness, and physical function in hips and knees at the beginning and end of the study.
Additionally, researchers studied WOMAC function, patient and physician global assessments, timed chair stand, balance tests, knee proprioception, depression, self-efficacy, and health-related quality of life. These assessments were also done at weeks 24 and 48 to determine how lasting each intervention was for the participants.
Attendance for the 12-week interventions was 85% in the tai chi group and 89% in the stretching and wellness group. Participants who took part in tai chi exhibited significantly greater improvements in pain, physical function, depression, self-effectiveness and health status. Patients who continued participating in tai chi after the 12-week intervention also reported long-lasting benefits in WOMAC pain and function.
The results lead investigators to believe tai chi is effective in the treatment of the pain and physical impairments in people with severe knee OA. “Tai chi mind-body exercise appears to provide an important approach for self-care and self-management for knee OA; however, these results should be confirmed by future large studies," says Chenchen Wang MD, MSc, Tufts Medical Center, Division of Rheumatology, and lead investigator in the study,
Patients should consult their rheumatologists before beginning this, or any, exercise program.