What's My Alternative: Arthritis

By Cara McDonald

Lenore Pristash was determined to cope with the arthritis in her neck and spine—after all, the 66-year-old was a former aerobics instructor and lifelong golfer, and she was used to being in control of her body. But when her doctor recommended neck surgery to remove bone spurs, the first words out of her mouth were, “No way.” “I was afraid I would lose the ability to do the things I love,” she says.

The Conventional Rx: Pristash was taking glucosamine and chondroitin (joint supplements that aid in cartilage repair), as well as Celebrex, a prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that irritated her stomach and increased her risk of heart attack and stroke.

The Alternative Rx: T’ai chi. This meditative martial art involves the fluid repetition of a series of gentle movements called forms. Pristash started attending a weekly class with a t’ai chi instructor and supplemented with DVD workouts at home.“People with arthritis benefit tremendously from the balance, stamina, endurance, focus, breathing, and social benefits they get from doing t’ai chi,” says Pristash’s instructor, Theresa Lilla, who herself has arthritis in her neck and knees. “It helps you to calm and connect with yourself, and when you’re in pain, that’s important.”

The Outcome: Before t’ai chi, Pristash could move her head only 40 degrees to the left; now she can turn it all the way to her shoulder. Her joints don’t crackle like they used to, and she stopped taking Celebrex. But a surprise benefit has been the mental effect: “T’ai chi enables you to settle your body into yourself and the earth; it sounds corny, but that’s what you do,” Pristash says. “T’ai chi has helped make this disease tolerable.”