Medical Benefits of Tai-Chi for Osteoarthritis?
One day I had decided to walk from Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. It was fairly early in the morning and the walk particularly from the borough into the great Island was breath-taking.
Around and at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge are some of the oldest streets in Manhattan – which the Lenape Indians called “Mannahatta” – and also where a significant Chinese had settled. As what often happens in New York, as you wind through streets, some cobbled, some paved (some pot-holed), I came across a strange triangle-esque park I had never seen before. In the park were about 25 older Chinese men and women practicing what I knew to be Tai-Chi.
What is Tai-Chi?
According to the Tai-Chi Health Institute Website, Tai-Chi is, “one of the most effective exercises for the health of mind and body. Although an art with great depth of knowledge and skill, it can be easy to learn and soon delivers its health benefits….The essential principles include mind integrated with the body; control of movements and breathing; generating internal energy, mindfulness, song (loosening ?) and jing (serenity ?). The ultimate purpose of tai chi is to cultivate the qi or life energy within us to flow smoothly and powerfully throughout the body. Total harmony of the inner and outer self comes from the integration of mind and body, empowered through healthy qi through the practice of tai chi. Tai Chi for Health programs are modernized tai chi incorporating medical science to deliver health benefits more quickly.”
East Meets West
Eastern medicine has often recognized the integration of the health of the mind with the health of the body. Tai-chi is not a strenuous activity. In fact, it requires a smooth, easeful, slow movement that requires one to slow down, breathe, and focus.
Western medicine researching the benefits of Tai-Chi as well. A recent study research looked at tai-chi as an effect long-term pain and disability treatment for knee osteoarthritis. The study was to compare standard physical therapy for patients with knee osteoarthritis in a randomized, 52-week, single-blind comparative effectiveness trial.
The study was conducted in part because few remedies effectively treat long-term pain and disability from knee osteoarthritis. Other studies have suggested that Tai Chi alleviates the symptoms, but there had been no trials directly comparing Tai Chi with standard therapies for osteoarthritis.
There were 204 participants with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis with a mean age of 60 years; 70% women; 53% white.
The participants underwent a system of Tai Chi 2 times per week for 12 weeks or what is equivalent to standard physical therapy. However, the patients were aware of their treatment group assignment, which could affect outcomes of the study.
After the trials, it was concluded that Tai Chi produced beneficial effects similar to those of a standard course of physical therapy in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.
Problem with Eastern Meeting Western Medicine
However, it should be noted that one of the problems with Western medicine meeting Eastern medicine is their respective practices and determinations. While Western medicine has set up what we would consider a “hard science,” with case studies and randomized, blind research, Eastern medicine works much differently. Often much older, Eastern medicine and eastern practice are inseparable from each other and takes years to master or learn, making it hard to place one system on top of another one.
Regardless, Tai-chi, of which there are many kinds, have been practiced of all ages for centuries. When you do get a sense of it, it takes a while to learn all the movements (the image that comes to my mind is line-dancing: you aren’t “taught” so much as “shown” and you learn by watching and moving with others), the effect is one of easefulness, a greater sense of breathe and a greater sense of the body.
Try Before You Dismiss
One aspect of Eastern medicine that Westerners are learning more and more is this: the intimate connection between the mind, body, and breath. They all work together. Oh, and yes: in my personal experience, it does leave one with a greater sense of ease, and alleviates any pain one may have.
- ‘Comparative Effectiveness of Tai Chi versus Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized TrialTai Chi versus Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis’. Annals of Internal Medicine May 17, 2016,. Accessed June 20, 2016. doi:10.7326/M15-2143. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2522435.
- ‘History of Tai Chi’. January 28, 2014. Accessed June 20, 2016. http://taichiforhealthinstitute.org/history-of-tai-chi-2/.