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Tai Chi and hydrotherapy help ease arthritis

May 02, 2007


Water-based exercise and the Chinese exercise system Tai Chi can help older people with severe arthritis move and feel better, researchers from Australia report.

Among men and women 60 and older with chronic osteoarthritis of the hip and knee, those who participated in 12 weeks of hydrotherapy or Tai Chi experienced significant improvements in pain and physical function scores, Marlene Fransen of The George Institute for International Health at the University of Sydney and her colleagues found.

However, participants in the hydrotherapy group were more likely to attend sessions than those assigned to Tai Chi. They also experienced significant improvements in measurements of physical performance, such as ability to climb stairs and walk, which weren't seen in the Tai Chi group.

"Hydrotherapy classes appeared to be more acceptable [higher attendance], appeared to provide greater relief of joint pain, and resulted in larger improvements in objective measurements of physical performance," Fransen and her team conclude in the medical journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Class study

The researchers randomly assigned 152 people to hydrotherapy, Tai Chi, or a waiting group. Classes lasted an hour and were offered twice a week.

After 12 weeks, there were significant improvements on scores measuring pain and physical function in both groups. Both groups also showed improvements in physical performance scores, but these improvements were only significant from a statistical standpoint in the hydrotherapy group.

At 24 weeks, all improvements had been sustained, and were greater than have been demonstrated in studies of traditional land-based exercise for arthritis patients, the researchers noted. Among the hydrotherapy group, 81 per cent attended 12 or more of the 24 available classes, compared to 61 per cent of those assigned to Tai Chi. Just one of the study participants was Asian while the rest were white

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