Objective: To determine whether Tai Chi or hydrotherapy classes for individuals with chronic symptomatic hip or knee osteoarthritis (OA) result in measurable clinical benefits.
Methods: A randomized controlled trial was conducted among 152 older persons with chronic symptomatic hip or knee OA. Participants were randomly allocated for 12 weeks to hydrotherapy classes (n = 55), Tai Chi classes (n = 56), or a waiting list control group (n = 41). Outcomes were assessed 12 and 24 weeks after randomization and included pain and physical function (Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index), general health status (Medical Outcomes Study Short Form 12 Health Survey [SF-12], version 2), psychological well-being, and physical performance (Up and Go test, 50-foot walk time, timed stair climb).
Results: At 12 weeks, compared with controls, participants allocated to hydrotherapy classes demonstrated mean improvements (95% confidence interval) of 6.5 (0.4, 12.7) and 10.5 (3.6, 14.5) for pain and physical function scores (range 0-100), respectively, whereas participants allocated to Tai Chi classes demonstrated improvements of 5.2 (-0.8, 11.1) and 9.7 (2.8, 16.7), respectively. Both class allocations achieved significant improvements in the SF-12 physical component summary score, but only allocation to hydrotherapy achieved significant improvements in the physical performance measures. All significant improvements were sustained at 24 weeks. In this almost exclusively white sample, class attendance was higher for hydrotherapy, with 81% attending at least half of the available 24 classes, compared with 61% for Tai Chi.
Conclusion: Access to either hydrotherapy or Tai Chi classes can provide large and sustained improvements in physical function for many older, sedentary individuals with chronic hip or knee OA.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00123994.