Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis of the knee and it is defined as a general “wear and tear” condition which usually affects people 50 years of age or older. However, this type of joint pain can occur in younger people as well. There are many ways to relieve the symptoms, decrease the joint pain and improve flexibility. One of alternative treatments that can heal knee joints is tai chi, according to the latest study. In this article, we’re going to discuss how is tai chi associated with healing knee joints.
Tai Chi and Knee Osteoarthritis
The study which inspected effectiveness of tai chi in treating osteoarthritis was conducted by Chenchen Wang professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine Division of Rheumatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and team of researchers.
The study included 204 participants satisfying ACR criteria for knee osteoarthritis. Participants were divided into two groups:
- 12 weeks of classical Yang style tai chi
- 12 weeks of the standard PT (physical therapy) regimen.
106 participants were in the tai chi group, while 98 participants were in the group that had to perform standard PT regimen for 12 weeks. The mean age of all participants was 60 and diseases duration was approximately 8 years. Furthermore, 70% of participants were female and 53% of them white; which only confirms that white women are more prone to osteoarthritis. The average BMI of participants was 33.
Dr. Wang’s team monitored participants at 12, 24, and 54 weeks. The team of scientists looked for changes in pain and functioning, quality of life, depression, and pain medication usage. Furthermore, participants were asked to assess their own pain and functioning as well as to complete six-minute and two-meter walking tests.
Results of the study, presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting in San Francisco in November 2015 showed that both tai chi and standard physical therapy led to similar improvements in pain and other outcomes for persons with knee osteoarthritis. Furthermore, findings of this study suggest that tai chi can be used as a viable therapeutic alternative for knee osteoarthritis treatment.
The importance of this study is seen in the fact it offers one more possibility for people with knee osteoarthritis that is quite difficult to manage.
Why is Tai Chi Good for Joints?
Tai chi is ancient Chinese form of martial arts which has been practiced for hundreds of years. Nowadays, tai chi isn’t only martial art, but it’s an effective exercise regimen and treatment for people with joint pain. One of the greatest benefits of tai chi over other types of physical activity is the fact that people of different abilities and fitness levels can easily perform it.
Practicing tai chi looks like a slow motion dance. For example, performing tai chi involves series of exercises that flow from one to another with emphasis on proper posture. Tai chi uses big and small movements that sometimes correlate and occur simultaneously.
Due to the fact that tai chi is a low-impact exercise it doesn’t form a pressure on your knees and joints thus improving your flexibility and joint health.
When you practice tai chi regularly, joints are compressed repeatedly thus allowing synovial fluid to flow into joint cartilage better. In turn, the cartilage is nourished, ends of the joints are slippery and joints are able to move smoothly, according to Mary L. Jurisson, MD a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.
Improving joint flexibility isn’t the only benefit of tai chi. The practice also improves your muscle strength and balance as well.
What Causes Knee Osteoarthritis?
The most common cause of knee osteoarthritis is age. It happens because the ability of joint cartilage to heal decreases as person gets older. But, as mentioned above younger people can get knee osteoarthritis as well. Below, you can see some other causes of knee osteoarthritis, besides age:
- Weight – When you’re overweight or obese, your weight forms a greater pressure on your joints.
- Heredity – Yes, if someone in your family had knee osteoarthritis, you have increased chances of getting it too
- Gender – As mentioned above, women are more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis than men
- Repetitive stress injuries – even the type of your job can cause knee osteoarthritis. For example, people who kneel or squat too much have increased chances of getting knee OA. Also, people who lift heavy things are also prone to it.
- Illnesses – People with rheumatoid arthritis, metabolic disorders etc. can also develop knee OA
- Athletics – Athletes involved in sports like tennis, soccer or long-distance running could be at a higher risk of getting knee osteoarthritis.
Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis
The most common symptoms of knee osteoarthritis include:
- Gradual increase in pain – Pain related to forms of arthritis usually occurs suddenly, but it develops slowly. This means that you might feel the pain when you’re physically active e.g. climbing the stairs, but when you rest, the pain decreases.
- Swelling or tenderness and feeling warmth in joint – Arthritis of the knee can cause periodic inflammation. This can happen due to extra fluids in the knee or because of the formation of bone spurs. Swelling is usually more pronounced after a longer period of inactivity or sedentary lifestyle.
- Buckling and Locking – Muscles in your knee may weaken and joint structure can become unstable over time. Weakness in the knee can cause your knee to buckle or joint can lock up so you can’t straighten or bend it. You might also notice that this symptom comes and goes away for no apparent reason.
- Cracking and popping sounds – These sounds are a result of rough surfaces and bone spurs rubbing over each other as you move your joints.
- Impaired flexibility – You may notice that you can’t move as smoothly as you used to. Vigorous physical activity usually produces pain in your knees.
Relieving Knee Pain
Below you can see some tips that will help you relieve knee pain:
- Performing low-impact exercises
- Losing weight
- Taking pain relievers
- Taking dietary supplements
- Applying warm compresses and ice packs
- Tai chi.
According to the latest study, regular tai chi practice has same effects as standard therapy for knee osteoarthritis. Major benefit of tai chi is that you can do it regardless of your fitness level and physical abilities. It’s defined as low-impact exercise which means your joints will improve flexibility due to lack of pressure. Practice tai chi and incorporate some other healthy lifestyle adjustments that will improve your mobility and reduce knee pain.