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Another solution for knee osteoarthritis: tai chi

October 28, 2008 | 12:59 pm

The pain caused by knee osteoarthritis can be debilitating and kick off a downward spiral of inactivity, exacerbating the problem.

TaichiMounting evidence shows that for those who suffer from knee osteoarthritis, exercise may be a key component in dealing with pain and difficulty walking. One 2006 study showed that by strengthening the quadriceps — those muscles in the front of the thigh — less cartilage was lost behind the kneecap, possibly resulting in more range of motion and less pain.

A new study suggests that the Chinese martial art tai chi may be effective in treating pain and disability from knee osteoarthritis. The mind-body discipline features slow, controlled movements that increase strength, balance and flexibility, and been shown in at least one other study to improve strength and possibly reduce the risk of falling in older people.

In this study, presented this week at the annual science meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in San Francisco, 40 people who had knee pain were assigned to tai chi instruction twice a week for 12 weeks, or to a control group in which they did stretching and received wellness education. At the end of the 12 weeks, those in the tai chi group showed much greater improvements in pain, physical function, depression, self-efficacy and health status than the control group. Those who stuck with the tai chi program continued to show benefits in lessening pain and increasing function.

"Tai chi mind-body exercise appears to provide an important approach for self-care and self-management for knee OA," said lead author Dr. Chenchen Wang, a physician in the division of rheumatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, in a news release. He added that the results need to be confirmed by large studies. Also, people are cautioned to talk to their doctors before starting any exercise program.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times