Tuesday December 25 2:01 PM ET

Tai Chi May Lessen Arthritis Pain

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi may offer some people with osteoarthritis relief from pain, according to the results of a study.

Twelve weeks in a Tai Chi program eased women's pain and made their daily activities more manageable, the researcher found. Previous research has suggested that the art, which focuses on improving strength, balance and flexibility through gentle movements, can help treat arthritis and lower blood pressure.

Dr. Rhayun Song of Soonchunhyang University in Korea presented the new findings recently in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

``Recently, many studies are focusing on Tai Chi, but this is the first study to apply Tai Chi exercise specifically designed for arthritis patients and actually test the effects with arthritis patients (in a) randomized trial,'' Song told Reuters Health in an interview.

In randomized trials, participants are randomly assigned to different groups for comparison. In this study, 43 women were assigned to one of two groups: 22 performed Tai Chi exercise for 12 weeks, while the rest received standard treatment only.

After 12 weeks, there were significant differences between the groups, Song reported.

``Women in the Tai Chi group reported less pain, less difficulties of daily activities, improved balance, and greater abdominal muscle strength,'' the researcher said.

``It's important for arthritis patients to manage pain and improve balance so that they can get around more easily during their daily activities,'' Song explained. ``This study's findings confirm that the (Tai Chi) exercise can provide that.''

Because of its emphasis on slow, continuous movement forward and backward, Tai Chi can enhance people's muscle strength and balance without causing pain in the joints.

``It's important for arthritis patients to select a safe form of any exercise and actually perform the exercise regularly and consistently,'' Song said.

``We strongly believe even arthritis patients can get huge benefits from exercise if they do the right one. Keeping them in exercise programs will be the next challenge for us,'' he noted.

Osteoarthritis is caused by a gradual breakdown in cartilage and bone, and can lead to pain and limit daily functioning, especially in the elderly. Nearly 21 million Americans have the disorder.