Question:My mother has severe rheumatoid arthritis in her hands and feet. She wants to sign up for a Tai Chi class at the Senior Center. Is this safe? I have visions of her falling and breaking something while doing these exercises.
Answer:Tai Chi is a series of slow and smooth movement patterns. They are usually done standing up. Motions are light and steady in all directions. Studies show that Tai Chi is a safe exercise even for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
It is easily modified if the person can't stand for long periods of time. Many of the upper body movements can be done sitting forward in a chair with the feet flat on the floor. The person practicing the movements can even shift weight through the feet forward and back or side-to-side while sitting.
It's possible to start in the standing position and sit down when the person becomes too tired to keep standing. Over time and with practice, the individual may be able to stand for longer periods of time during the exercises.
Classes taught at a senior citizen's center often take into account physical limitations. The instructor gives ideas how to modify the exercise for those who can't do the full movement. Any exercise is helpful for patients with RA but especially Tai Chi, which is known for its ability to improve balance, motor control, and strength.De Wei Mao, PhD, et al. Plantar Pressure Distribution During Tai Chi Exercise. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. June 2006. Vol. 87. No. 6. Pp. 814-820.
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