Food & Fitness After 50: Tai Chi for Your Knees

Last year I interviewed Chris Cinnamon, owner and head instructor of Chicago Tai Chi™ and an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certified exercise physiologist about the benefits of Tai Chi for older adults.  In the post, Chris answered your questions about Tai Chi for overall health, and we explored his path from Navy flyer to lawyer to Tai Chi expert and healthy aging advocate. To read the post, click here.

Tai Chi book coverToday I want to talk about his new book, Tai Chi for Knee Health, available at Amazon as a softback or E-book by clicking here.

The book is a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to performing this low impact exercise for preventing knee problems, treating knee issues, or recovering after a knee injury or surgery. Since knee osteoarthritis affects about 14 million adults it is likely that you, a family member, or friend have some issues with knee pain. Let’s start with a few observations about the book and then ask the author to elaborate.

The book is divided into 4 parts and 18 chapters, loaded with illustrations to make the content relatable.

The first part is devoted to getting to know your knees and establishing the reasons why Tai Chi is beneficial for knee health. This part is replete with illustrations of the knee and the many structures that support your knee…. bones, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, muscles, and the inner working of the knee itself. I’m sure you’ve all heard of people (or perhaps yourself) who have meniscus tears or ACL repairs. Chris’s clear explanations and accompanying illustrations will help you understand what these structures are, where they are located, and the functions they serve.

The second part focuses on the first three movements of the seven movement Tai Chi for Knee Health exercise system. The basic elements of the movements are discussed, and each step is illustrated, along with practice exercises to make sure you are doing the exercises in a manner that promotes knee health.

Part three presents the next two movements, reinforcing and building upon the lessons in Parts one and two. Part four guides you through the final two movements, then a complete set of movements 1 through 7.

Each chapter ends with a bulleted list of the content wrap up; I found it helpful to read this first and then read the chapter and ending with a review of the wrap up. (I like the bottom-line up-front approach to learning!)

The book includes links to online practice videos where Chris leads you through the exercises, providing helpful cues.  In addition, the book provides a wealth of references for further reading.

What I like most about the book is that is great for beginners, but also a useful tool for seasoned pros to take their practice to the next level.

Question: Can you explain your 3 objectives for writing this book?

I wrote the book for 3 main reasons:

  1. To help more people discover how Tai Chi-based exercises, when properly taught and practiced, can restore knee health, and improve, even eliminate, knee pain.
  2. To guide readers through a gentle exercise program, anchored in solid science, that gives people an alternative, or compliment, to more invasive, and risky, interventions for knee osteoarthritis and other conditions.
  3. To provide a clear, practical, no nonsense guide for knee pain sufferers so they can accomplish the 3 main objectives of the Tai Chi for Knee Health System because until now, these skills have rarely been taught in the west. The skills are to:
    • develop the sensitivity to feel inside your knees
    • develop the skill to precisely align your knees during dynamic movement, so you stop hurting them
    • learn to move in ways that stimulate physiological mechanisms that can restore knee health.

Question: You make a pretty bold claim that Tai Chi can eliminate knee pain. How do you support this claim?

I appreciate your question. That may seem like a bold claim, but when you dig into the science, it’s entirely supportable.

Let me start with my own experience. In my late 40s, after a lifetime of high impact athletics, multiple knee injuries, and surgery, I endured chronic knee pain. It hurt to climb or descend stairs. It hurt to kneel. It hurt to sit at a desk. I took lots of ibuprofen and worried about my ability to stay active.

Then I received a diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA) in both knees. Knee OA is typically degenerative, meaning it keeps getting worse. I didn’t like that. About that time, I discovered Tai Chi. I was soon hooked by its graceful, powerful, yet low-impact movements. Soon my knees began to feel better. As I continued to practice Tai Chi, my knees continued to improve. Today, my knees are virtually pain-free. And as the Head Instructor of the leading Tai Chi school in Chicago, I lead an active life.

I’ve guided hundreds of students and clients through my Tai Chi for Knee Health system. They learn the material, practice it, and consistently report a reduction in knee pain. All that is anecdotal, I recognize. But there is solid science to back it up.

Multiple research studies have tested Tai Chi as an intervention for knee OA. All of the studies show significant improvements in pain. Most of the studies show significant improvements in function. All without drugs or surgery. In short, Tai Chi for Knee Health works. (Note, there is a comprehensive list of references in the book.)

Question: How long and how many times a week should Tai Chi be practiced for knee health?

I recommend people practice my Tai Chi for Knee Health exercises 15 – 20 minutes per day for 4-6 days per week. A small investment of time for a big payoff in healthier knees and a more active life.

With one important qualification, however. If that amount of exercise causes discomfort, then the person needs to back off and do a lower volume and duration of exercise. Say 3 days per week for 10 minutes per day. Then gradually build from there.

As I explain in the book, you can’t reduce knee pain by moving in a way that hurts your knees. Especially when dealing with knee OA.

Question: You talk about the 70% rule…please explain that because everyone thinks you must give 100% to anything to make it successful.

The 70% Rule holds that we perform no movement or practice greater than 70% of our maximum.

For people like me, raised in a “No Pain, No Gain” society, that may initially seem bizarre.

But when it comes to healing your knees, the 70% Rule makes total sense. By moving within your 70% range, you reduce tension, allowing chronically tense tissue to relax. Relaxation of tissue improves circulation of fluids, which promotes healing. So, when healing is the goal, the 70% rules applies.

In the same vein, by moving within your 70% range (or less depending on your circumstances), you avoid a range of motion that irritates arthritic tissue and triggers pain. Viewed in this way, the 70% Rule helps you avoid hurting your knees while the gentle movements of Tai Chi for Knee Health promote healing.

Question: If you could explain the book in a tweet of 240 characters, what would you say?

My book Tai Chi for Knee Health will guide you, step-by-step, through a low-impact Tai Chi-based exercise system that will:

  • Transform your knee health
  • Eliminate pain
  • Get you moving again

Beyond the limit of 240 characters, The Tai Chi for Knee Health System provides an ideal exercise program for adults experiencing chronic knee pain from knee osteoarthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, patellofemoral syndrome, and other causes. It can be incorporated into prehab and rehab for knee surgery and knee replacement.

The Tai Chi for Knee Health System combines time-tested Tai Chi principles with cutting edge scientific research to deliver a step-by-step program that anyone can do. Richly illustrated, with access to online videos, Tai Chi for Knee Health delivers an ideal resource to help you take charge of your knee health, eliminate pain, and enjoy moving again.

Question: Would you like to add anything else?

I developed the Tai Chi for Knee Health System to help millions of knee pain sufferers experience the transformation I and hundreds of my students have experienced—from chronic knee pain to virtually pain free knees.

The response to the book has been outstanding. Readers across the US and 8 other countries are enjoying the program, checking in with questions, and reporting their progress.

There are lots of sore knees out there. Tai Chi for Knee Health can help many of them.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.