Tai chi is one of those things that can look awfully funny to outsiders: A group of people, standing in rows, moving slowly and silently as if fighting in a low-speed martial- arts tournament.
But did you know that those slow, deliberate movements could bring some serious pain relief? Maybe these folks are the ones getting the last laugh… because a new study finds that tai chi can help people cope with knee osteoarthritis.
Tufts University researchers looked at 40 OA sufferers. Half of them did 60 minutes of tai chi twice a week for 12 weeks. The other half served as a control group – they were given two 60-minute classes twice a week that went over OA information, diet, education and discussions of more traditional therapies.
In the end, the patients in the tai chi group reported significantly less pain than those who sat through the classes.
The research is promising and it certainly won't hurt to try. My concern is that tai chi exercises don't appear to do anything to the underlying condition behind knee osteoarthritis, specifically the loss of cartilage in your knees.
But pain relief is pain relief – and simple exercises are a much better option than painkillers that can destroy your stomach and lead to other problems.
If you're willing to give tai chi a shot, I'd suggest doing it in concert with something else, like a glucosamine supplement. Many people add chondroitin to this, but I'd suggest seeing if you can get by without it. Some studies have linked chondroitin to prostate cancer, and while the research is early there's no reason to take the chance when so many people get relief without it.
It's pretty easy to find a tai chi group if you live in a big urban area. Elsewhere, it may be a bit trickier – but you can start by asking the workers at your local park. Since many tai chi groups meet in parks in the morning, the staff here might be able to point you in the right direction.
You can also try local martial arts schools – even if they don't offer tai chi, they may know someone who does.
And even if tai chi doesn't deliver on the promise of pain relief, it's still a great way to get outside, get moving and socialize.