Nonpharmacological approaches to the management of chronic pain in community-dwelling older adults: a review of empirical evidence

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012 Mar;60(3):555-68. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2011.03846.x. Epub 2012 Jan 30.


The objective of this literature review is to gain insight into the efficacy of nonpharmacological interventions in chronic pain management in community-dwelling older adults. An extensive search of pertinent databases was performed to identify reports of studies of nonpharmacological (physical and psychosocial) pain interventions. The review identifies intervention studies that used randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and summarizes existing evidence of effectiveness of nonpharmacological interventions. A literature search yielded 28 RCT intervention studies (18 for physical interventions and 10 for psychosocial interventions) that met inclusion criteria and are included in this review. Twenty-one studies (75%) identified in this review demonstrated statistically significant differences (P < .05) in pain scores between nonpharmacological interventions and no intervention or sham interventions; the intervention groups showed lower pain intensity. More research is needed to determine the best format, intensity, duration, and content of such treatments, as well as their efficacy in the older adult population. Methodological limitations are identified in many of the studies, such as low statistical power due to sample size and imprecise measurement, lack of reliable sham controls, and inadequate blinding. Future intervention studies of nonpharmacological pain therapies may require larger sample sizes, control for comorbidities, and long-term follow-up.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Disease Management
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic