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An Ancient Practice Heeds a New Call

Exercise is prescribed by doctors to at least one-third of their chronic pain patients—now it looks as though the ancient practice of Tai Chi is being called upon to help ease symptoms in those with mild to moderate Parkinson's disease.

T'ai chi ch'uan or Taijiquan (a.k.a Tai Chi) is a form of internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. Centuries old; this practice originated in China during the 16th century, and continues to have a strong following in Eastern and Western cultures.

In a study conducted by the Oregon research Institute, Tai Chi training resulted in improving many areas of the body often targeted by Parkinson's disease. These areas included postural stability, walking ability—and perhaps most importantly, reducing the amount of falls in participants.

A four-year long study, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, was conducted on 195 patients who were randomly assigned to one of three exercise groups. The groups were: Tai Chi, resistance training, and stretching, in which the participants partook in 60-minute exercise sessions, twice weekly for a total of 24 weeks.

What the results showed was quite remarkable; the Tai Chi group performed consistently better than both the stretching group and the resistance training group in how far they could lean in any given direction without losing their balance. They were consistently better in directional control of the body, walking abilities (including taking longer strides), as well as having showed significantly lowered the incidences of falls.

Parkinson's attacks the patient's ability to remain stable, which results in trouble walking, frequent falls, and difficulty managing day-to-day activities that the un-afflicted may take for granted. For most Parkinson's patients, losing their freedom is almost as bad as losing their ability to walk. Doctors have long recommended exercise as part of treatment for Parkinson's patients, but very little scientific research has been proven for alternative forms of exercise like Tai Chi.

What this means for other chronic pain disabilities, has yet to be seen, but it offers hope to those who are suffering with Parkinson’s—a disease that affects roughly 500,000 Americans. Many may scoff at the idea of this ancient Chinese practice being able to help a condition as serious as this disease can be--but if this could help many who find themselves in the grip of Parkinson's, it may certainly be worth a try.

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