People with knee arthritis may find relief through tai chi, say researchers looking at this ancient Chinese martial art as an alternative to physical therapy. It may also alleviate depression, particularly in overweight older adults, who are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, according to Chenchen Wang, director of the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at Tufts Medical Center. The researchers followed 200 people, average age 60. Most were overweight/obese and had knee osteoarthritis for an average of eight years. Their knee joint cartilage was worn, causing pain, swelling, tenderness and stiffness, a leading cause of long-term pain and disability among older adults. Participants in Wang’s study received either tai chi or PT. The tai chi group worked with a trained instructor twice a week for 12 weeks. The others got PT twice a week for six weeks, followed by six weeks of monitored home exercise. Throughout, participants took routine medications. After 12 weeks, Wang evaluated patients for pain, stiffness and joint functioning. Both groups showed similar improvements, and the tai chi group also had greater relief from depression. Past studies have shown that tai chi can be effective in helping sleep, while reducing stress, anxiety and depression and is easy to learn and perform. Orthopedic surgeon Matthew Hepinstall, at Lenox Hill Hospital’s Center for Joint Preservation and Reconstruction, agreed: “Tai chi helps patients preserve and improve function by increasing strength, flexibility and coordination, while avoiding aggravation of arthritic pain and inflammation.” Tai chi is low impact and emphasizes balance, coordination and strength and, Hepinstall said, it reduces falls in the elderly. Interested? Ask for an experienced instructor at your local gym or Y. Before beginning tai chi, remember to ask your health provider if it’s right for you.
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