Tai Chi: An Improved Alternative to Physical Therapy?

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese art form that incorporates graceful, fluid movements, deep controlled breathing and meditation. This rhythmic form of exercise is often favored by seniors because it is low-impact and takes a holistic approach to wellness, but new findings suggest that tai chi may be particularly beneficial for individuals with knee osteoarthritis.

Knee osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition in which the flexible tissues at the ends of bones begin to erode. This condition worsens over time and is the leading cause of pain and disability among older adults. The most common treatments for knee osteoarthritis include physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain, control swelling and improve joint function. However, a recent study led by Dr. Chenchen Wang, director of the Center for Complimentary and Integrative Medicine at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, found that tai chi may be a superior treatment alternative to physical therapy.

This study randomly assigned approximately 200 senior patients with knee osteoarthritis to participate in tai chi or physical therapy for a period of three months. Patients in the tai chi group attended an hour-long tai chi class twice a week for 12 weeks, while patients in the physical therapy group attended 30-minute physical therapy sessions twice a week for 6 weeks and then continued with at-home exercises four times a week for six weeks. At the end of the three months, and at the one year follow-up, researchers noted that both groups experienced similar pain reduction. However, patients in the tai chi group reported greater progress in mental health and well-being than the patients in the physical therapy group.

"Tai chi is a multicomponent traditional Chinese mind-body practice that may systematically promote health... by integrating physical, psychosocial, emotional, spiritual and behavioral elements," said Wang.

Researchers did note that the study outcomes may be influenced by the fact that participants knew which type of treatment they were receiving. Patients may have been swayed by personal beliefs about the benefits of tai chi or physical therapy, which could have affected their self-reported data. Still, the results of this study offer encouraging evidence that could lead to improved, affordable alternatives to traditional osteoarthritis treatments (Source: Fox News).

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