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Health, Leisure, Lifestyle

Science Finds That Tai Chi Can Heal Your Knee Joints Effectively

Written by Brian Wu, MD
Health Writer, Author
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Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common degenerative joint disease which can lead to joint pain, grinding and cracking of the joints, limited knee function and other difficult signs and symptoms and it puts people at greater risk for falls. Treatment – especially pain control — using traditional methods can be challenging. However, a recently published study has found that alternative methods like tai chi can improve quality of life for those who suffer from arthritis in their knees.

The Latest Study

The latest study on alternative treatments for arthritis of the knee is coming out of Tufts University, where researchers have just published a study which looked at tai chi versus traditional physical therapy methods for improving quality of life for those who have osteoarthritis of the knee.

Research focused on two groups of participants, all of whom had been diagnosed with arthritis in their knees: one group received 2 days of traditional physical therapy for 6 weeks followed by 6 weeks of at-home therapy, a mainstream approach to arthritis treatment. The second group participated in Wang-style tai chi exercises for 12 weeks.

Researchers checked up on both groups at 12, 24 and 52 weeks. It was found that while both groups showed improvements, the participants that had participated in the tai chi showed significant improvements over the control group at 12 weeks, and at 24 and 52 weeks were found to be using fewer pain pills and reporting less depression, a common symptom for those with this condition. Researchers concluded that “patients and their physicians should discuss tai chi as a therapy option”, especially due to the improvements in mental health found due to participation in tai chi.

The Treatment Possibilities for OA

This study could potentially have a big impact on those suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee, which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates will impact as many as 50% of the population by age 85 — and since the 85+ segment of the population is the fastest-growing one in the United States, the problem is a large one just through sheer numbers.

It is also a problem because knee arthritis can be challenging to manage. Current mainstream treatments can center around weight loss to help ease pressure on the joints as well as use of over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen, regular injections of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid, braces, physical therapy and, if all else fails, surgery. However, all of these treatments come with problems: weight loss can be an enormous challenge for patients of any age and the success rate is low; over-the-counter drugs can cause problems like stomach ulcers and bleeding and injections like corticosteroids, if used in the long term, can cause serious problems like osteoporosis and diabetes. Surgery can bring the risk of complications like infection, slow recovery time, or post-surgical pain.

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That is one of the reasons why so many people seek out complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices for long-term osteoarthritis treatment.  These therapies include supplements like glucosamine which are supposed to help support joint health as well as topical treatments like capsaicin and practices like acupuncture. Tai chi easily fits into the CAM category and with studies like the one discussed above getting attention in the media, more patients might try this practice out for themselves. It appears to be effective with both the physical and psychological effects of osteoarthritis — but without the unwanted side effects of some mainstream therapies.

In short, osteoarthritis of the knee is a difficult condition to live with and to manage from day to day — and can bring with it unfortunate symptoms like depression and an increased risk of falls. However, tai chi appears to be a natural way to help strengthen knee function, reduce pain and improve emotional outlook for those who have to deal with this chronic condition.

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