Tai Chi for older adults with chronic multisite pain: a randomized controlled pilot study

Aging Clin Exp Res. 2018 Nov;30(11):1335-1343. doi: 10.1007/s40520-018-0922-0. Epub 2018 Mar 6.


Background: Chronic pain is associated with poorer cognition and mobility, and fall risk in older adults.

Aims: To investigate the feasibility of a randomized controlled trial of mind-body exercise (Tai Chi) versus light physical exercise in older adults with multisite pain.

Methods: Adults aged ≥ 65 years with multisite pain who reported falling in the past year or current use of an assistive device were recruited from Boston area communities. Participants were randomized to either a Tai Chi or a light physical exercise program, offered twice weekly for 12 weeks. The primary outcomes were feasibility and acceptability. Secondary outcomes included pain characteristics, cognition, physical function, gait mobility, fear of falling, and fall rate.

Results: Of 176 adults screened, 85 were eligible, and 54 consented and enrolled (average age 75 ± 8 years; 96.30% white; 75.93% female). The dropout rate was 18% for Tai Chi and 12% for light physical exercise. For those completing the study, exercise class attendance rate was 76% for Tai Chi and 82% for light physical exercise. There were no significant group differences in most secondary outcomes. Tai Chi significantly lowered pain severity (4.58 ± 1.73 to 3.73 ± 1.79, p < 0.01) and pain interference (4.20 ± 2.53 to 3.16 ± 2.28, p < 0.05), reduced fear of falling (90.82 ± 9.59 to 96.84 ± 10.67, p < 0.05), and improved several single-task and dual-task gait variables, while light physical exercise did not change these measures.

Discussion and conclusions: This study demonstrated the feasibility and acceptability of conducting a larger randomized controlled trial in older adults with multisite pain. Study findings and challenges encountered will inform future research.

Keywords: Chronic pain; Falls; Feasibility; Mind-body exercise; Mobility.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Exercise
  • Fear / psychology
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Research Design
  • Tai Ji*