NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Practicing the controlled movements and deep breathing of Tai Chi may reduce arthritis pain and related disabilities, according to findings from a multi-study review.

Tai Chi, an exercise form that originated in China, involves gentle, gliding motions that can be performed regardless of physical ability.

After reviewing studies of Tai Chi involving a total of about 300 subjects with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, Amanda Hall, at the University of Sydney in Australia, and colleagues found that the practice reduced pain levels.

Tai Chi likewise reduced pain-related disability associated with daily activities such as walking, climbing stairs, getting in and out of chairs, and completing household, shopping, and leisure activities.

These findings suggest Tai Chi “is as effective in reducing arthritic pain and disability as other clinical exercise programs,” Hall told Reuters Health.

Previous research showed Tai Chi to be beneficial in reducing pain and improving physical function, and the current analysis helps quantify the effect, Hall and colleagues explain in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism.

Their review included five studies that assessed Tai Chi effects among people with osteoarthritis in the hip, knee, lower back, and ankle, plus one study that involved subjects with rheumatoid arthritis.

Study participants, generally 60 years of age and older, participated in group Tai Chi sessions of 40 to 60 minutes once or twice a week, and were often encouraged to practice Tai Chi movements at home.

When Hall’s team compared pain and pain-related disability measures before and after the subjects completed the Tai Chi programs, the pooled data showed 10-point reductions, on 100-point scales, in both measures.

Moreover, “the research suggests trends toward improved mood and tension levels associated with Tai Chi,” Hall added.

Still, available data on Tai Chi’s efficacy for pain and disability reduction is sparse, so Hall’s team calls for additional investigations in larger populations.

SOURCE: Arthritis and Rheumatism, June 2009