Ancient Mind-Body Exercise Relieves Knee Pain

Long-lasting improvements in pain and function

By Sandra Wendel

The ancient art of tai chi has been touted for its health benefits, especially for older people who may prefer a less vigorous type of exercise. Now its effectiveness in the treatment of knee pain has been documented in research presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in San Francisco.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common joint disease affecting middle-aged and older people. It causes painful and swollen joints.

OA in the knee and hip can generate chronic pain or discomfort during standing or walking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, knee OA affects 240 of every 100,000 people per year.

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese exercise that uses an integrated mind-body approach to enhance muscle function, balance, and flexibility. Its practice has been thought to reduce pain, depression, and anxiety.

Researchers set out to determine if tai chi could successfully treat the physical and mental effects of severe knee OA. Forty 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 white.

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 for pain, stiffness, and physical function in hips and knees at the beginning and end of the study.

Participants who took part in tai chi exhibited significantly greater improvements in pain, physical function, depression, self-effectiveness, and health status. Those who continued participating in tai chi after the 12-week intervention also reported long-lasting benefits in pain and function.

These results led investigators to believe that tai chi is effective in the treatment of the pain and physical impairments in people with severe knee OA.

Published December 1, 2008

Sandra Wendel
Silver Planet Feature Writer

Reviewed By: Shehnaz Shaikh, MD

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