Tai Chi for Back Pain Relief

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that has recently become a popular form of exercise. Due to its focus on slow, controlled movement, balance and posture, Tai Chi is often recommended for back pain relief. In particular, Tai Chi can be effective in relieving the pain of osteoarthritis while working to improve strength and balance.

Principles and philosophy of Tai Chi

Tai Chi is based on the Chinese philosophy of balancing “chi” (life force). The ancient Chinese believed that aging and infirmity occur when the chi is hindered by tight, closed joints. Tai Chi is used to open the joints and allow chi to flow throughout the body, which is thought to slow the aging process and restore vitality.

Tai Chi uses gentle movements performed in a set sequence, with focus on breathing and each movement flowing into the next. The movements of Tai Chi are meant to correct the improper movements we pick up during the ordinary course of our days and help us re-learn the natural way our bodies were meant to be moved.

Back benefits of Tai Chi

The solo Tai Chi sequence (as opposed to the competitive forms where practitioners spar against one another in tournaments) moves the body through a complete range of motion. The movements emphasize straightening the spine and deep abdominal breathing while remaining anchored to the body’s natural center of gravity. This is believed to have some specific benefits for people with disc pain, arthritis of the spine and sciatica:

  • Increased core strength – Because the muscles of the core are the chief support system for the spine, Tai Chi’s focus on strengthening these muscles is believed to be extremely beneficial for spinal health.
  • Increased circulation and oxygen flow – The breathing techniques and muscle movements of Tai Chi help to increase the blood and oxygen flow to muscles, which helps to flush out toxins and allows injuries to heal more quickly.
  • Increased mental strength – Meditation is an important component of Tai Chi. Some people have reported that this aspect of Tai Chi has helped to increase mental strength, which, in turn, has helped them to better deal with their back pain.

Tai Chi often is a great form of exercise for those who experience back pain because it is low-impact and not jarring, which makes it easy on the spine. However, it is important to keep in mind that every body functions differently, and a Tai Chi regimen may be contraindicated by your condition. Be sure to check with your health care professional before beginning to participate in Tai Chi or any other new exercise routine.

If Tai Chi is right for you, there are a number of ways to get started: many communities may have informal classes that meet in parks and on beaches. Your local martial arts centers probably also have classes available. An Internet search for “Tai Chi” and the name of your city will likely turn up a list of leads for getting started with Tai Chi in your area.