Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating disorder characterized by stiffness, throbbing and swelling of the joints and muscles. It can also set the stage for a host of other symptoms including depression, fatigue and irritability.
And while many sufferers resort to toxic and harmful medications such as Enbrel and Remicade to ease their pain, researchers at UCLA are in the midst of investigating the effects of a much more natural, less abrasive treatment known as tai chi, a Chinese martial art that combines relaxation and mild physical exercise that gets patients moving in a gentle way.
Tai Chi Studies
Recent research has indicated that tai chi can preserve range of motion in patients, which could reduce disability. Moreover, a 2003 UCLA study demonstrated that a modified form of tai chi--known as tai chi chih--boosts the immune system's response to a common virus and prevents outbreaks of shingles, a skin condition that strikes the elderly.
This same modified form of tai chi--a standardized series of 20 movements that combine meditation, relaxation and components of aerobic exercise--is being tested in two ongoing UCLA studies to see if the martial art is more effective than current behavioral techniques in helping sufferers deal with their condition:
One of the studies will involve over 200 volunteers who will attend classes for 12 weeks in tai chi chih, health education or cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches coping skills to manage RA symptoms.
The second study, which will involve 60 subjects who will attend classes for 16 weeks, will compare whether tai chi chih or relaxation training is better at helping patients cope and examine how well each method eases the severity of the condition.
The participants' progress will be evaluated based on their feedback and objective measures of their functioning. Researchers believe the exercises may not only improve physical strength and flexibility, but also boost mood and relieve stress.
Los Angeles Times July 18, 2005