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Rheumatoid arthritis, unlike osteoarthritis, does not improve with tai chi exercise, initial results have suggested, but further investigation is warranted, the researchers say, because of shortcomings of their pilot.
The study took 15 women aged 40–70 (mean 57.0 (SD 8.6)) years with moderate disability one year before the study at random from the rheumatoid arthritis register in Oslo. Norway, and followed them over eight weeks of a tai chi programme modified for arthritis sufferers. This comprised two 45 minute sessions a week and was given by trained tai chi instructors. Various objective and self reported measures of disease, performance, and health were recorded at baseline, four weeks into the programme, and one week after the programme was completed.
Hoped for improvements, as have been seen in osteoarthritis, did not materialise. Self reported measures and performance, such as muscle strength, joint flexibility, and balance, and cardiovascular fitness remained the same, as did biochemical measures of inflammation and disease activity. Nevertheless, all bar two women enjoyed the programme much more than their usual physiotherapy and found it more useful.
However, these initial results should not deter further exploratory research with more patients; a longer programme of 10–12 weeks, as generally recommended; and more responsive chosen measures, the researchers maintain.