Tai Chi for Arthritis—or Fibromyalgia

Discussion in 'Fibromyalgia Main Forum' started by JLH, Dec 20, 2006.

  1. JLH

    JLH New Member

    For people who deal with arthritic joints, injured backs, or fibromyalgia, finding an exercise class that fits their needs and capabilities can be a challenge. Often they sign up for an exercise class or embark on a home regimen of stretches and weight lifting, only to give up because joints hurt and symptoms flare. Anyone who deals with a chronic condition, such as fibromyalgia, may find exercise exacerbates symptoms, creating additional fatigue and muscle weakness.

    One form of exercise that is beginning to catch on as an effective tool for health improvement is tai chi. Practicing the right form of tai chi helps people with arthritis or other physical limitations. That is why arthritis foundations all over the world actively support the Tai Chi for Arthritis program.

    First developed in China, tai chi is known as a moving meditation. It is composed of gentle, graceful movements linked together in a flowing sequence. Tai chi utilizes an ancient meditative practice called qigong (pronounced "cheekung”). According to the principles of Chinese medicine, qi is a vital life energy that circulates throughout the body. If the flow of qi becomes sluggish or blocked, health problems can develop. Proponents of traditional Chinese medicine believe that tai chi helps arthritis and other imbalances by enhancing the flow of qi within the body. The relaxing and meditative nature of tai chi helps reduce stress and take the edge off pain.

    There are numerous forms of tai chi, and they vary in the training methods used and the amount of physical exertion they call for. Some forms are not appropriate for people with physical limitations because they contain many difficult movements and are too vigorous. Some could even be dangerous.

    A program currently growing in popularity in the United States is the "Tai Chi for Arthritis" program developed by the author, Dr. Paul Lam, a family physician and Tai Chi Master based in Australia. Along with a team of tai chi experts and rheumatologists, Dr. Lam created an easy to learn, safe and effective program for people with arthritis. It is based on Sun Style Tai Chi, which has a higher stance, so there is less knee bending and stress on joints. The slow-paced movements strengthen muscles, and joints are put through their full range of motion, improving flexibility. Because tai chi is a form of low-intensity aerobic exercise, it helps build stamina, which is important for the proper functioning of the heart, lungs and muscles[1].

    A study of this program was published in the Sept. 2003 Journal of Rheumatology; it looked at 73 patients with osteoarthritis. The study compared one group who did the Tai Chi for Arthritis program for three months against another group of controlled patients who had a basic regimen of treatment without tai chi. The tai chi group reported approximately 30 percent less pain and improvement at carrying out their daily activities, as well as improved balance.

    As a Senior Trainer, Robin Malby, co-author of this article, is certified under Dr. Paul Lam. Robin has been teaching Tai Chi for Arthritis classes for six years. She herself struggled with fibromyalgia, and the Tai Chi for Arthritis program was instrumental in helping her strengthen muscles and re-build her immune system.

    Along with Robin's arthritis and back pain students, she has worked with a number of fibromyalgia patients in her classes. Robin encourages them to pace slowly at first and take short breaks until their muscles have built up enough stamina to stand and move for almost the full hour. They like the gentle, slow movements of tai chi because they are able to exercise without muscles locking up and becoming too fatigued. They also report an increase in their energy level and a feeling of calm that lowers their pain level. The meditative component of tai chi seems to reduce the amount of nervous system symptoms they experience, such as numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, headaches and visual sensitivities to bright or fluorescent lighting.

    If you'd like to take a tai chi class, look for an instructor willing to work within your comfort zone and help you adapt the movements to your needs. Do not choose an instructor who places too much emphasis on the martial arts aspects or who believes there is no pain without gain[2]. Pace yourself without pressure and sit down for breaks as needed. It is always wise to observe a class and talk with the instructor prior to signing up. Dr Lam's website www.taichiproductions.com has a list of instructors who are trained to teach the Tai Chi for Arthritis program safely.

    The local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation may run tai chi programs or refer you to suitable instructors or your doctor may give you a referral. Tai Chi classes are also offered at community centers, health studios, senior centers, the local YMCA or the local hospital's wellness program. For examples of warm up exercises and stretches designed by Dr. Paul Lam, click here . You can also ask Dr Lam any questions at the Forum of his website by clicking here.

    by: Dr. Paul Lam and Robin Malby

    [1] Paul Lam and Judith Horstman: Overcoming Arthritis, published by DK 2003

    [2] Paul Lam and Judith Horstman: Overcoming Arthritis, published by DK 2003

    References for published studies are available on request to Dr. Paul Lam

  2. LittleBluestem

    LittleBluestem New Member

  3. BethM

    BethM New Member


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