Benefits of Tai Chi for RA

By Hilary Goldson of Arthritis Matters, Reading

Taken from NRAS magazine, Winter 2013

A local arthritis charity in Reading, Arthritis Matters, has been running Tai Chi classes  for members for several years, and the popularity of these classes has demonstrated that participants experience real benefit from this form of exercise in many different ways.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese exercise system for the body, mind and spirit. Tai means big or great, Chi means ultimate energy, so therefore it is all about generating and feeling energy through graceful movement.

Tai chi class

Tai Chi and arthritis

There is a growing amount of evidence through studies, newspaper articles and personal stories of how helpful Tai Chi exercises are for keeping our bodies flexible, strong and supple.  The gentle, slow movements allow the joints to be moved with awareness so that one can stop if there is discomfort or pain.  These include circling joints, stretching muscles and weight bearing. By respecting limitations and relaxing into the movements a greater range can be found.  This careful use of movement encourages the use of joints without causing undue discomfort or wear and tear, because the exercises are all low impact.

Exercise, generally, helps the body’s strength and resilience, so exercising with Tai Chi combines the benefits of exercise with relaxation.  Most exercises are done while continually moving and can be done standing or seated.  In our Reading classes, usual Tai Chi moves have been adapted as necessary to individual needs, and members have reported:

•    Increases of leg strength so they can stand longer
•    Increase in flexibility so that ordinary jobs are less of a problem
•    Greater confidence to try things that they had been concerned would aggravate their arthritis

Feedback from participants

“It has helped to strengthen my legs after recent knee replacement surgery, and helps with my coordination and balance.”   

“My balance is so much better – I can now try on clothes in a changing room without needing to sit down.”

“I feel warm and relaxed after a lesson, and my body feels it has had a gentle work-out.”

“My joints feel more supple and I find it relaxing.  I thoroughly enjoy it and would come every day!” 

Note from NRAS: Ask your GP, consultant, physiotherapist or local leisure centre about Tai Chi classes in your area.