Tai Chi May Be as Good as Physical Therapy for Knee Arthritis Pain
May 23, 2016 -
Tai Chi improves pain and related health outcomes in patients with knee
osteoarthritis as well as standard physical therapy, according to a comparative
effectiveness trial published in Annals
of Internal Medicine. Tai Chi was also shown to produce significantly
greater improvements in depression and the physical component of quality of
Knee osteoarthritis is a leading cause of age-related
pain and disability. Over-the-counter pain medications often fail to relieve
symptoms and are associated with serious adverse effects. Physical therapy is
globally recommended, but benefits are modest. As such, identifying new and
effective treatments is an urgent clinical and public health priority. Tai Chi,
a multicomponent traditional Chinese mind-body practice that combines meditation
with slow, gentle, graceful movements; deep breathing; and relaxation, has been
shown to alleviate symptoms of knee osteoarthritis, but no trials have directly
compared Tai Chi with standard care.
Researchers, led by Dr. Chenchen Wang, director of the
Center for Complimentary and Integrative Medicine at Tufts Medical Center in
Boston, sought to compare Tai Chi with standard physical therapy for relieving
pain, physical function, depression, medication use, and quality of life in
patients with knee osteoarthritis. Just over 200 participants were randomly
assigned to one of two treatment groups: Tai Chi or standard physical therapy.
Patients in the Tai Chi group performed Tai Chi with a trained instructor 2
times per week for 12 weeks. Patients in the physical therapy group had standard
physical therapy 2 times per week for 6 weeks, followed by 6 weeks of monitored
After 12 weeks, patients in both groups showed
significant improvements in pain as measured by the Western Ontario and McMaster
Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) score, with benefits maintained up to
52 weeks. In addition, patients in the Tai Chi group had significantly greater
improvements in well-being compared to those in the physical therapy group.
According to the authors, these findings support Tai Chi as an effective
therapeutic option for knee osteoarthritis.