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T'ai chi 'as effective as physical therapy for knee osteoarthritis'

Published on 10 November 2015
Tai Chi 'as effective as physical therapy for knee osteoarthritis'

A new study has underlined the therapeutic benefits the practice of t'ai chi can hold for knee osteoarthritis patients.

Conducted by Tufts University in Boston, the US study was presented at the American College of Rheumatology's annual meeting and aimed to determine if practising the martial art offered comparable health benefits to physical therapy.

A group of 204 participants with symptomatic and radiographic knee osteoarthritis were enrolled and randomly sorted into two cohorts. The first group of 106 completed 12 weeks of classical Yang-style t'ai chi training twice a week, while the remainder underwent physical therapy twice a week for six weeks, and then were monitored during six weeks of home-based physical therapy exercises.

All participants had similar characteristics and test results in the beginning of the study, but after 12 weeks the t'ai chi group saw a greater improvement in pain and functioning than the physical therapy group. 

Additionally, the t'ai chi group experienced improvements in terms of mental health and depression, while at 24 and 52 weeks they were also able to reduce their use of pain medication compared to the physical therapy cohort.

It was also noted that there were no differences in the t'ai chi group based on the four instructors utilised, whereas there were variations in the performance of the physical therapy group based on the therapist used.

Dr Chenchen Wang, professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, said: "Patients and their physicians should discuss Tai Chi as a therapy option, but it is important that patients work with a seasoned instructor with 5 to 10 years of experience working with people who have osteoarthritis to ensure they are receiving proper instruction."

Dr Katherine Free, research liaison and communications manager for Arthritis Research UK, said: "It is important for people with arthritis to keep exercising, but we recommend you do speak to your GP before embarking on a new regime.

"People with arthritis are often concerned about whether exercise will cause further pain or damage to their joints, and to address this we are funding research to develop a qualification for exercise professionals that will enable them to deliver exercise safely to people with arthritis."

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