This article, entitled tai chi for arthritis, is a discussion on how arthritis is positively affected through the regular practice of tai chi.
The word arthritis comes from two Greek words meaning joint inflammation. Arthros refers to joints, or the articulations between skeletal bones. Itis refers to inflammation.
For a moment, let us think of arthritis as a “process” rather than a “disease”. By process, I mean that it can go either way – it can improve or get worse. To an extent, this will be determined by the course of action we take.
Generally speaking, the best bet we have to prevent and/or reverse this process of arthritis is through healthy lifestyle. This includes proper diet, exercise, and some form of stress management such as meditation. Stress is probably the number one cause of arthritis because of its effect on contraction of joints due to tension.
The movements in tai chi are all performed in circles and spirals, as opposed to most physical activities that are done linearly/angularly. Tai chi’s continuously spiraling/circling movements do not irritate joints the way stop and go linear movements do, hence little or no increase in heat within the joint capsule (inflammation). This inflammatory process, over a long period of time, is what leads to the changes in bone structure and therefore the pain associated with it. When the temperature within a joint increases, there is a buildup of acidity. The body’s reaction to this is to send calcium (from bone reserves) via the blood to the joint to neutralize the acid. This causes a buildup of calcification within the joint (spurs, etc) as well as a decalcification in the bone storage. So there is a double problem that may result – arthritic joints and osteoporosis.
Another point we must consider is the effect of stress on our joints. Stress causes tension. Tension causes the body to contract – muscles, joints, organs, glands, blood vessels… every part of the body is affected by this stress related tension. If we do not do something on a regular basis to reverse or balance this process, it can lead to arthritis, as the space between bones is reduced. This is another way that heat can build up in the joints (friction), hence arthritis (joint inflammation).
Regular practice of tai chi calms the mind and so has a positive effect on reversing the buildup of physical and emotional tension. When the physical body relaxes, the tension in the joints lets go, and normal joint space is restored.
One more point we need to consider is the affect of gravity on the articular system. In the practice of tai chi, because there is no pounding of weight bearing joints, the potential for deterioration of these joints is eliminated. This pounding surely affects weight bearing joints in a negative manner, causing a reduction in the height of intervertebral spinal discs and also the bursae within joint capsules, especially in the weight bearing joints (hips, knees, ankles). The pounding reduces the amount of synovial fluid within the joint, and once again leading to friction between bones (irritation = inflammation = arthritis.
And lastly, let us consider the effect that the Yi, or intention, has on our joints. During our tai chi practice, the mind is fully engaged. There is a continuous opening and closing (Kai He) of the entire body that is interwoven in tai chi movements, a kind of “pulsing” action that also increases the synovial fluid within the joint capsule (and spinal discs). This pulsing is something unique to tai chi and other internal arts and qigong.
Learn tai chi early on and practice it daily all your life. Your best bet to prevent arthritis and also to reverse the process! Make tai chi available to children with the understanding of the effects tai chi has on health for the whole life. Offer tai chi classes to seniors and see its positive effects on their range of motion and elimination of joint aches and pains.
Tai chi is good for everyone at every age. Lets change the image of tai chi once and for all!