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Arthritis and Tai Chi - An overview

In this article I shall try to explain in somewhat basic terms about arthritis, how Tai Chi works to achieve relief from the pain and improve flexibility.  The two predominant conditions of Osteo-Arthritis (OA) and inflammatory Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) are often found individually but may occur together in a few cases.


Osteo is to do with the bones & Rheumatoid is to do with the immune system.  There are many different types of Arthritis and many are triggered by viruses or diet. 


In each case the pain may be worse one day than another and may be severe to the point of being unbearable. 


Osteo usually means that there has been erosion of the bone at the joint and wear has occurred on the cartilage or rubbing surface that enables one bone to move about another.  Any joint can be affected but usually, we find it in the hips, knees, shoulders and neck.


RA is an inflammatory disorder that affects mainly the tissue around the joints causing them to swell and release toxins into the blood stream.  The immune system does not differentiate between the normal body tissues and abnormal.  In effect it attacks the wrong target.  What causes this may be hormonal, stress related, genetic or acquired reaction.  Research now suggests that the cells are infected with toxins, heavy metals or other impurities and the immune system is simply trying to eradicate them.


Often the skin shows blemishes typical of the onset of the condition.  Breath may smell and toxins build up in body tissue.


Tai Chi & Qigong (pron. Chee Gung) have been seen in the East to relieve such conditions for perhaps, thousands of years.  In the West, it has been studied extensively in clinics, universities and is advocated by leading Arthritis & Osteoporosis Societies to help with the condition.  Many teachers have formed their own proprietary regimes of activity and selected just a few movements to teach those with either condition.


All Tai Chi forms and styles are beneficial if applied and taught correctly.  When used for post surgery rehabilitation or illness the results may be quite amazing. In all cases, correct relaxation is vital to allow the joints to heal.

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How does this work?


In the hands of a skilled therapist / teacher who can evaluate your individual needs and requirements for optimum help the exercises are gentle, rhythmic and adjusted according to the degree of an individual condition.  The pain level, ability and age of the individual are critical.   Often we will see a reduction of the need for medication with a doctors’ approval.


The movements will open the joints to allow lubrication, will load the bone to help prevent osteoporosis, will ease and teach management of the condition.


Starting with simply standing and walking, how to balance, how to use a chair for support in extreme cases, how to flex the knees, the hips and shoulders are all in the warming up stages of the class.


Students are urged to complete a medical questionnaire upon registration and to work only within their own comfort zone.  If the exertion is too much then slow down or stop.  You will be taught how to manage your condition and not rely on others.


Lets get to the details now.  In any joint, there are two opposing surfaces separated by a load bearing firm, fluid immersed cartilage.  Around the joint is a sac containing fluid to bring nutrients and lubrication to the joint.  About that is a set of ligaments to hold the joint in place until a muscle acts upon it.  The muscles can only pull and every action demands a muscle to pull it one way and another to return it in the opposite direction.  Tendons connect muscle to the bone and many connections are the same insertion point for different muscles.


So, if the muscles constantly pull the joint together it cannot relax to allow new fluid to lubricate and replenish the tissue.  Anxiety, stress, hyper reaction, poor posture, badly trained muscle groups, sitting too long at the computer, desk or TV, draughts from windows, air conditioning, applying cold compress, ice, poor nutrition, poor circulation and so forth all exacerbate the condition.  This is true of both major types of arthritis.  Many disagree but I urge you to read the latest research from the USA.

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In Chinese medicine, invasion of external pathogenic factors is the cause of many illnesses ie: wind, cold, damp (our UK weather climate)


In Tai Chi you will learn to switch on and switch off tension and muscles alternately.  You will learn to be better able to prevent falls by learning good balance and strengthening your legs.  You will learn how to move correctly and how to avoid over reaction to stress through the Qigong meditations and just being among calm people.


All you have to do is get to classes.  Then the key to success is a little practice.  The ancient secret is regular practice and the biggest secret of all begins with P……(Commonly known as the 3 P’s – Practice! Practice! Practice!)

Once you find a teacher & classes that you enjoy, you will be enthused to do a little practice every day to progress, either to prevent ‘flare-ups’ or degradation of your joints or relieve pain & discomfort then you may naturally wish to learn more challenging exercises to get fitter to enable you to live a better quality of life.  Many of our students say that this is enjoyable movement & it doesn’t feel like exercise.  If it is pleasurable then you will want to come to the classes.  The benefits tend to creep up on you as they are accumulative.

Tai Chi & Qigong classes consist of gentle, slow, relaxed movements that are performed in your own comfort zone to your own ability with no competition with others, simply supporting each other in a friendly environment.  There are many different types or styles of Tai Chi & Qigong so please telephone the instructor & chat about your requirements or health concerns & ask which class will be the best for you, your age group & physical ability. 


The classes at the Chi Clinic are usually smaller groups of up to 10 people whereas the classes at Longmead or Cheam Priory Centres are larger groups up to 20 people, due to the space available.  So, it’s up to you which environment you feel most comfortable in although we aim for all our groups to be conducive to learning & being relaxed.


Our timetable of classes appears in the menu and please also read the articles on Tai Chi and Qigong for further information.


This testimonial was handed to me on the 17th September 2014 with a request that I publish it for all to see.

Dear Tony, I am afraid that I am a technology nincompoop and was therefore unable to leave the feedback on your website reviews, so I hope you don't mind an old fashioned testimonial.

When I walked in to your clinic for my first Tai Chi class I had been suffering with increasing amounts of pain due to my arthritis.  I was finding daily life increasingly difficult.  Anyone who has arthritis will tell you that you are constantly trying to avoid your painful joints giving you any more grief and as a result your horizons become very narrow as does your temper.

After one class in which I started to learn how to walk in balance the pain in my knees subsided to such an extent that it felt like a great weight was beginning to lift off my body and soul.  As I practice each day the pain gets less and less.  I have only been to three classes  so far but the change in my quality of life is nothing short of outstanding and thoroughly and wholeheartedly recommend Tony and The Chi Clinic to anyone suffering with arthritis.

I am a fat 59 year old woman who thought that her life was over but thanks to Tony and Tai Chi my horizons are expanding once again.  Don't think that you are over the hill- learn Tai Chi and find out that you are not even half way there yet !

Thank you so much for giving me my life back.  Marigold...

Please ensure that you are fit enough to participate and if you have any health issues, consult a medical professional before doing any exercise.