Mind–Body Interventions for Chronic Pain in Older Adults: A Structured Review


  • Review Article

Natalia E. Morone, MD, MSc, 230 McKee Place, Suite 600, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA. Tel: 412-246-6930; Fax: 412-692-4838; E-mail: moronene@upmc.edu.


Study Design.  We conducted a structured review of eight mind–body interventions for older adults with chronic nonmalignant pain.

Objectives.  To evaluate the feasibility, safety, and evidence for pain reduction in older adults with chronic nonmalignant pain in the following mind–body therapies: biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis, tai chi, qi gong, and yoga.

Methods.  Relevant studies in the MEDLINE, PsycINFO, AMED, and CINAHL databases were located. A manual search of references from retrieved articles was also conducted. Of 381 articles retrieved through search strategies, 20 trials that included older adults with chronic pain were reviewed.

Results.  Fourteen articles included participants aged 50 years and above, while only two of these focused specifically on persons aged ≥65 years. An additional six articles included persons aged ≥50 years. Fourteen articles were controlled trials. There is some support for the efficacy of progressive muscle relaxation plus guided imagery for osteoarthritis pain. There is limited support for meditation and tai chi for improving function or coping in older adults with low back pain or osteoarthritis. In an uncontrolled biofeedback trial that stratified by age group, both older and younger adults had significant reductions in pain following the intervention. Several studies included older adults, but did not analyze benefits by age. Tai chi, yoga, hypnosis, and progressive muscle relaxation were significantly associated with pain reduction in these studies.

Conclusion.  The eight mind–body interventions reviewed are feasible in an older population. They are likely safe, but many of the therapies included modifications tailored for older adults. There is not yet sufficient evidence to conclude that these eight mind–body interventions reduce chronic nonmalignant pain in older adults. Further research should focus on larger, clinical trials of mind–body interventions to answer this question.