The Benefits of T'ai Chi for Older Adults with Chronic Back Pain: A Qualitative Study

J Altern Complement Med. 2020 Jun;26(6):456-462. doi: 10.1089/acm.2019.0455. Epub 2020 May 5.


Objective: To determine the perceived benefits of t'ai chi in older adults with chronic low-back pain (cLBP). Design: A qualitative analysis from a randomized controlled feasibility trial. Subjects: Eighteen participants (65+ years old) with cLBP of at least moderate intensity. Intervention: A 36-week intervention beginning with twice weekly classes for 12 weeks, weekly classes for 6 weeks, biweekly classes for 6 weeks, and monthly classes for 12 weeks. Participants were asked to practice at home on nonclass days and videos were provided to assist in that process. Outcome Measures: Participants in the focus groups were asked to provide feedback on their experiences with the study as well as the benefits of their t'ai chi practice. We used demographic and class attendance data to describe the sample. Results: Regarding the benefits of t'ai chi practice, five major themes were identified: functional benefits, pain reduction/pain relief, psychospiritual benefits, the importance of social support in learning t'ai chi, and the integration of t'ai chi into daily activities. The most common functional benefits were improvements in balance, flexibility, leg strength, and posture. Some reported pain reduction or pain relief, but others did not. Increased relaxation, mindfulness, and a sense of connectedness were subthemes that emerged from psychospiritual benefits. Social support benefits included motivation to attend class and group support while learning a new skill. Finally, improved body awareness allowed participants to integrate t'ai chi skills into their daily activities. Conclusions: This qualitative analysis demonstrates the multifaceted benefits of t'ai chi for older adults living with cLBP.

Keywords: benefits; chronic low-back pain; older adults; qualitative; t'ai chi.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Male
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tai Ji*