PUBLISHED: 12:07 PM on Wednesday, January 4, 2006
Stretching the limits
Tai Chi eases arthritis pain

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Barbara Greening, front left, and Jo Boehme, front right, instruct a group during Tai Chi lessons at Mendenhall Glacier. Classes will begin in February and are targeted for people with arthritis. For more information, call Boehme at 790-3250.
You ache, it's difficult to move and the last thing you want to do is exercise. But for people with arthritis, Tai Chi may be a form of exercise that will ease the pain.

Jo Boehme, an occupational therapist, and Barbara Greening, a retired healthcare professional, are hoping to help people with arthritis by teaching Tai Chi classes in Juneau.

"It's a form of exercise people can learn the techniques and practice at home on their own," Greening said. "You can push yourself to do as much as you want. There's a wide scale."

Tai Chi is a style of martial arts that uses slow forward and backward motion to improve mobility. Lack of exercise could result in smaller and weaker muscles, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

"The more flexible we are, the better it is in preventing falls. It's an ongoing preventative measure," Greening said. "The ladies we are working with now love coming."

Boehme and Greening have taken classes to teach Tai Chi specifically for people with arthritis and will begin classes in February at Wildflower Court.

The women said they will limit class sizes to 15 people.

Tai Chi for arthritis was developed by Dr. Paul Lam in Asia, but emerged in the United States less than five years ago, Boehme said.

"It's a wonderful thing to bring to the community and is geared to seniors, but it's great for any adult with a strength or mobility challenge," Boehme said.

A 12-week study by the Arthritis Foundation researched the effects of Tai Chi on pain, balance, muscle strength and physical functioning of older patients with osteoarthritis.

According to the study, osteoarthritis patients perceived less pain and stiffness in their joints, improved balance and performed better physical functioning after 12 weeks of exercise. However, the study showed no significant difference in patients cardiovascular functioning, knee muscle strength or endurance or body fat composition.

Greening said the exercise also is gentle and calming for the mind.

"It's set up so anybody can do it. I've seen a woman who had arthritis so bad she was bed ridden and had to crawl to the pool to try it. She's able to function now. We never would have thought this would have such a strong effect," Greening said.

"It's been very enjoyable from the beginning."

Boehme said that while Tai Chi may look too easy to have effect someone, it is gaining a following.

"The people in Juneau are open-minded to new approaches to tackle problems people have, and I expect Juneau to embrace this with open arms," Boehme said. "It's made a difference for me in calming and relaxation. I'm very excited personally and professionally to give something to the community."

For more information, call Boehme at 790-3250.