Background Chronic pain is a common and frequently disabling problem in older adults. Clinical guidelines emphasize the need to use multimodal therapies to manage persistent pain in this population. Pain self-management training is a multimodal therapy that has been found to be effective in young to middle-aged adult samples. This training includes education about pain as well as instruction and practice in several management techniques, including relaxation, physical exercise, modification of negative thoughts, and goal setting. Few studies have examined the effectiveness of this therapy in older adult samples. Methods/Design This is a randomized, controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of a pain self-management training group intervention, as compared with an education-only control condition. Participants are recruited from retirement communities in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and must be 65 years or older and experience persistent, noncancer pain that limits their activities. The primary outcome is physical disability, as measured by the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire. Secondary outcomes are depression (Geriatric Depression Scale), pain intensity (Brief Pain Inventory), and pain-related interference with activities (Brief Pain Inventory). Randomization occurs by facility to minimize cross-contamination between groups. The target sample size is 273 enrolled, which assuming a 20% attrition rate at 12 months, will provide us with 84% power to detect a moderate effect size of .50 for the primary outcome. Discussion Few studies have investigated the effects of multimodal pain self-management training among older adults. This randomized controlled trial is designed to assess the efficacy of a pain self-management program that incorporates physical and psychosocial pain coping skills among adults in the mid-old to old-old range.