Tai chi may help alleviate chronic low back pain in older adults

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Tai chi offers an alternative approach to improve chronic low back pain in adults over 65 years of age compared to health education and usual care, according to a new study evaluating the feasibility and acceptability of the therapy published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Tai chi has been shown effective for improving chronic back pain, yet with little attention to older adults. In the randomized controlled trial, researchers led by Karen Sherman, PhD, focused only on adults older than 65.

Participants were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of tai chi, a 12-week health education intervention, or usual care. Measures of recruitment and retention contributed to the determination of feasibility.

The findings indicate that the study was feasible and had acceptable recruitment, few dropouts, and an excellent safety profile. Among the T'ai Chi participants, 62 percent attended at least 70 percent of the classes during the 12-week intervention period. Remarkably, at 52 weeks, 70 percent of tai chi participants reported having practiced the week before, with a median of three days per week and 15 minutes per session. Both participation and perception of helpfulness were lower in the health education group, the researchers said.

“More research is needed on treatments for chronic low back pain in older adults,” Sherman said in a statement “Our study showed that it's feasible to do a clinical trial of [tai chi] for this condition.”