The researchers took reports from all the participants on their levels of pain, fatigue, stiffness and physical function before the study began and at the eight-week evaluation period. They were also asked to rate themselves on their overall health, their psychological state (such as perceived helplessness), and how well they could perform daily activities.
The participants were also tested on their strength and physical performance by using a timed chair stand (which evaluates lower leg strength), their walking gait (both normal and fast) and two balance tests (a single leg stand and a reach test.)
Callahan said she couldn't yet quantify the improvements by percentage, but the available data suggest that participants felt mildly to moderately better and improved their sense of well-being. They also slept better, she said.
Tai Chi appears to provide both physical and mental benefits, she added. "The whole program is designed to help people be relaxed and think about their breathing, think about their movements. Everything is slow and deliberate and purposeful."
The findings of the study -- which was funded in part by the Arthritis Foundation and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- were recently released at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in Atlanta.
Myeong Soo Lee, a principal researcher with the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine in Daejeon, South Korea, said the study is "rigorous" but has limitations. For one thing, it didn't break down the benefits by arthritis type, she noted.
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