Knee osteoarthritis pain in the elderly can be reduced by massage therapy, yoga and tai chi: A review

Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016 Feb:22:87-92. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2016.01.001. Epub 2016 Jan 14.


Background and methods: This is a review of recently published research, both empirical studies and meta-analyses, on the effects of complementary therapies including massage therapy, yoga and tai chi on pain associated with knee osteoarthritis in the elderly.

Results: The massage therapy protocols have been effective in not only reducing pain but also in increasing range of motion, specifically when moderate pressure massage was used and when both the quadriceps and hamstrings were massaged. The yoga studies typically measured pain by the WOMAC. Most of those studies showed a clinically significant reduction in pain, especially the research that focused on poses (e.g. the Iyengar studies) as opposed to those that had integrated protocols (poses, breathing and meditation exercises). The tai chi studies also assessed pain by self-report on the WOMAC and showed significant reductions in pain. The tai chi studies were difficult to compare because of their highly variable protocols in terms of the frequency and duration of treatment.

Discussion: Larger, randomized control trials are needed on each of these therapies using more standardized protocols and more objective variables in addition to the self-reported WOMAC pain scale, for example, range-of-motion and observed range-of-motion pain. In addition, treatment comparison studies should be conducted so, for example, if the lower-cost yoga and tai chi were as effective as massage therapy, they might be used in combination with or as supplemental to massage therapy. Nonetheless, these therapies are at least reducing pain in knee osteoarthritis and they do not seem to have side effects.

Keywords: Knee osteoarthritis; Massage therapy; Tai chi; Yoga.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthralgia / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage*
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / therapy*
  • Tai Ji*
  • Yoga*