Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Effects of Tai Chi on beta endorphin and inflammatory markers in older adults with chronic pain: an exploratory study


The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the effects of Tai Chi on blood levels of beta endorphin (β-endorphin) and inflammatory markers in older adults with chronic pain. Forty community-dwelling older adults with chronic pain were randomized to Tai Chi or light physical exercise, and each offered twice weekly for 12 weeks. Following the 12-week intervention, neither Tai Chi nor light physical exercise changed levels of β-endorphin and inflammatory markers. However, in older adults who completed 70% or more classes, Tai Chi significantly lowered levels of β-endorphin (p < 0.05), whereas light physical exercise did not change levels of β-endorphin. The results suggest that Tai Chi may reduce levels of β-endorphin in older adults with chronic pain. Future studies are needed to better understand the role of the opioid analgesic system and immune system in regulating pain with aging and the long-term effects of Tai Chi on pain-related biomarkers.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Hasselhorn HM, Theorell T, Vingard E et al (2001) Endocrine and immunologic parameters indicative of 6-month prognosis after the onset of low back pain or neck/shoulder pain. Spine 26:E24–E29

  2. 2.

    Spetea M (2013) Opioid receptors and their ligands in the musculoskeletal system and relevance for pain control. Curr Pharm Des 19:7382–7390

  3. 3.

    Penninx BW, Abbas H, Ambrosius W et al (2004) Inflammatory markers and physical function among older adults with knee osteoarthritis. J Rheumatol 31:2027–2031

  4. 4.

    American Geriatrics Society Panel on Pharmacological Management of Persistent Pain in Older P (2009) Pharmacological management of persistent pain in older persons. J Am Geriatr Soc 57:1331–1346

  5. 5.

    Nicklas BJ, Brinkley TE (2009) Exercise training as a treatment for chronic inflammation in the elderly. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 37:165–170

  6. 6.

    Thoren P, Floras JS, Hoffmann P et al (1990) Endorphins and exercise: physiological mechanisms and clinical implications. Med Sci Sports Exerc 22:417–428

  7. 7.

    Meyer JD, Hayney MS, Coe CL et al (2019) Differential reduction of IP-10 and C-reactive protein via aerobic exercise or mindfulness-based stress-reduction training in a large randomized controlled trial. J Sport Exerc Psychol 41:96–106

  8. 8.

    You T, Ogawa EF (2019) Effects of T’ai Chi on chronic systemic inflammation. J Altern Complement Med 25:656–658

  9. 9.

    You T, Ogawa EF, Thapa S et al (2018) Tai Chi for older adults with chronic multisite pain: a randomized controlled pilot study. Aging Clin Exp Res 30:1335–1343

  10. 10.

    Tan G, Jensen MP, Thornby JI et al (2004) Validation of the brief pain inventory for chronic nonmalignant pain. J Pain 5:133–137

  11. 11.

    Øktedalen O, Solberg EE, Haugen A et al (2001) The influence of physical and mental training on plasma beta-endorphin level and pain perception after intensive physical exercise. Stress Health 17:121–127

  12. 12.

    La Forge R (1997) Mind-body fitness: encouraging prospects for primary and secondary prevention. J Cardiovasc Nurs 11:53–65

  13. 13.

    Wang R, Liu J, Chen P et al (2013) Regular tai chi exercise decreases the percentage of type 2 cytokine-producing cells in postsurgical non-small cell lung cancer survivors. Cancer Nurs 36:E27–E34

Download references


This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R21 AG043883).

Author information

Correspondence to Tongjian You.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

The study protocols and consent procedures were approved by the University of Massachusetts Boston Institutional Review Board.

Research involving human participants and/or animals

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

You, T., Ogawa, E.F., Thapa, S. et al. Effects of Tai Chi on beta endorphin and inflammatory markers in older adults with chronic pain: an exploratory study. Aging Clin Exp Res (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40520-019-01316-1

Download citation


  • Tai Chi
  • Chronic pain
  • Older adults
  • Beta endorphin
  • Inflammation