For arthritis sufferers, simple tasks like getting dressed or turning on a faucet can be torture. While there's no known cure for arthritis, there are ways for sufferers to ease the pain and discomfort that accompanies it. One of these is Tai Chi, a traditional form of Chinese exercise. People have practiced Tai Chi for over 2,000 years. It's low impact and puts minimal stress on the muscles and joints. This makes it suitable for people of most age groups and physical conditions.

The Tai Chi group experienced...increased pain reduction, improved physical function, less depression and better overall health.

Researchers at the Tufts Medical Center, led by Dr. Chenchen Wang, conducted a study of forty people in their sixties who had had osteoarthritis of the knee for about ten years. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease caused by the wearing down of a joint's cartilage over time. It causes chronic pain and reduced mobility. It's also the most common form of arthritis.

One group of people in the study performed Tai Chi for one hour, twice a week. The other group spent that time doing conventional stretching exercises. The Tai Chi group experienced greater benefits. These included increased pain reduction, improved physical function, less depression and better overall health.

Forty people is a very small number of subjects, or sample, to study. Dr. Wang commented that his group's findings need to be confirmed in a larger study. Still, the results were promising. The research was presented at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in San Francisco.

Tai Chi emphasizes the link between mind and body, focusing on movement, balance and breathing. It's been likened to meditation in motion. Despite existing for millennia, it is only recently that Tai Chi has been studied scientifically. Some of these studies suggest a variety of benefits ranging from pain reduction to lowered blood pressure to an improved general sense of well being.

While word of mouth and a few scientific studies are fine, will Tai Chi help you? You're the only one who can answer that question. Tai Chi doesn't require any special clothing or equipment. The movements it employs are slow and gentle. While it can be done on your own, it's best to seek the guidance of a qualified instructor.

If you're totally new to Tai Chi, there are many ways to find classes or instructors in your neighborhood. A senior center, YMCA, YWCA, community health care center or wellness center may be able to point you in the right direction. You may be able to see people performing Tai Chi on cable or satellite TV programs, but this is no replacement for personal instruction.