Exercise is often a central component of arthritis pain management. Integrative medicine practitioners often advise arthritis patients to consider tai chi or yoga for managing symptoms.

Tai Chi

This mind-body exercise uses meditation, deep breathing, and low-impact, constant, flowing movement.

Many experts believe tai chi reduces symptoms and improves balance in patients who have arthritis, including osteoarthritis,12 ankylosing spondylitis,13 and rheumatoid arthritis. Moreover, tai chi may improve mood and promote a sense well being, particularly for those living with chronic pain.14

Tai chi can be done in a group setting or alone. It is considered safe for all ages and abilities. (An instructor can demonstrate modified poses to accommodate people with injuries or limited movement.) Moreover, tai chi does not require special equipment and is low- to no-cost, making it accessible to most people.

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Yoga

Evidence suggests people with various types of arthritis can improve their physical symptoms as well as mood by regularly practicing yoga.15-18 All yoga practices try to use movement, stretching, breathing, and relaxation to improve strength, flexibility, and peace of mind.

Yoga poses can look intimidating or impossible to some people, particularly people coping with arthritis pain. A well-qualified yoga instructor can show participants modified or alternative poses to accommodate stiff joints and protect against further injury. These accommodations allow most people to participate fully in yoga classes and optimize yoga’s benefits.

There are several different types of yoga, and each type features different poses and practice principles. For example:

  • Anusara yoga focuses heavily on both the mind and the body
  • Bikram yoga features an specific series of poses and is done in a room heated to 105 F
  • Vinyasa yoga focuses on the flow from pose to pose and each class may feature a different routine.

There is no research showing one type of yoga to be more beneficial than another, so people with arthritis should choose what they enjoy and works best for them.

References

  1. Song R, Lee EO, Lam P, Bae SC. Effects of tai chi exercise on pain, balance, muscle strength, and perceived difficulties in physical functioning in older women with osteoarthritis: a randomized clinical trial. J Rheumatol. 2003 Sep;30(9):2039-44. PubMed PMID: 12966613.
  2. Lee EN, Kim YH, Chung WT, Lee MS. Tai chi for disease activity and flexibility in patients with ankylosing spondylitis--a controlled clinical trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008 Dec;5(4):457-62. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nem048. Epub 2007 Jul 13. PubMed PMID: 18955296; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2586320.
  3. Waite-Jones JM, Hale CA, Lee HY. Psychosocial effects of Tai Chi exercise on people with rheumatoid arthritis. J Clin Nurs. 2013 Nov;22(21-22):3053-61. doi: 10.1111/jocn.12327. Epub 2013 Sep 13. PubMed PMID: 24033836.

Complete Listing of References

Further Reading: Exercising with Arthritis
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Written by Vijay B. Vad, MD
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