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Tai Chi May Improve Rheumatoid Arthritis

Practicing tai chi on a regular basis may significantly improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. There have been a number of studies on the benefits of practicing tai chi to improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis including joint pain, stiffness and weakness, and doing so may significantly improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, according Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D in an article for the Chicago Daily Herald.

As medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network, Massey explained that while there are a number of medical therapies proven to slow the progress of rheumatoid arthritis, such as anti-inflammatory medications, steroids and disease modifying medications specifically targeting the immune system, side effects often limit the use.

Physical therapies are beneficial and reduce the need for medication, but long-term compliance can be a problem. However, tai chi exercises often show better compliance, he explained in the article.

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art practiced primarily for health benefits, with slow, methodical and repetitive movements, which strengthen the tissues around the joints, Massey said. This can improve balance and strength, and also reduce pain. Over the past two decades, there is significant research published in the medical literature on the benefits of tai chi for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the article.

A recent medical study published in the medical journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders re-examined the use of tai chi exercises in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and found there was the expected improvement in physical function, but patients also felt better, mentally, after practicing tai chi, according to the Daily Herald article. Stress levels were lower, energy levels were higher and overall mental outlook was brighter – so patients kept up with the practice because they actually felt better doing it.

“I strongly agree with the results of the study,” Massey said in the article. “In my experience, martial-art based exercises not only improve the physical condition, but in many cases have positive impact on the mental and emotional state. It simply feels good.”

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