T'ai Chi for Chronic Low Back Pain in Older Adults: A Feasibility Trial

J Altern Complement Med. 2020 Mar;26(3):176-189. doi: 10.1089/acm.2019.0438. Epub 2020 Feb 3.


Objectives: T'ai chi (TC) has been found effective for improving chronic low back pain (cLBP). However, such studies did not include adults over 65 years of age. This study was designed to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of TC in this population compared with Health Education (HE) and with Usual Care (UC). Design: Feasibility randomized controlled trial. Settings/Location: Participants were recruited from Kaiser Permanente Washington and classes took place in a Kaiser facility. Patients: Adults 65 years of age and older with cLBP. Interventions: Twenty-eight participants were randomized to 12 weeks of TC followed by a 24-week tapered TC program, 12 were assigned to a 12-week HE intervention and 17 were assigned to UC only. Outcome Measures: Feasibility and acceptability were determined by recruitment, retention and 12-, 26-, and 52-week follow-up rates, instructor adherence to protocol, class attendance, TC home practice, class satisfaction, and adverse events. Results: Fifty-seven participants were enrolled in two cohorts of 28 and 29 during two 4-month recruitment periods. Questionnaire follow-up completion rates ranged between 88% and 93%. Two major class protocol deviations were noted in TC and none in HE. Sixty-two percent of TC participants versus 50% of HE participants attended at least 70% of the classes during the 12-week initial intervention period. Weekly rates of TC home practice were high among class attendees (median of 4.2 days) at 12 weeks, with fewer people practicing at 26 and 52 weeks. By 52 weeks, 70% of TC participants reported practicing the week before, with a median of 3 days per week and 15 min/session. TC participants rated the helpfulness of their classes significantly higher than did HE participants, but the groups were similarly likely to recommend the classes. Conclusion: The TC intervention is feasible in this population, while the HE group requires modifications in delivery.

Keywords: chronic low back pain; feasibility; older adults; randomized controlled trial; t'ai chi.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Male
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tai Ji*