Korean Medicine Treatment Is Effective in Treating Shoulder Osteoarthritis

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Shoulder osteoarthritis (SOA), a degenerative joint disease, affects nearly one-third of adults aged 60 and older in the United States and can cause pain, stiffness, reduced range of motion, and crepitus—“hearing and feeling grinding and clicking noises as you move your shoulder.”

These symptoms can impinge on daily life, taking a physical and emotional toll on people with SOA. A recently published long-term observational study reported that nonsurgical, integrative Korean medicine (KM) effectively treats SOA.

KM originates from traditional Chinese medicine and includes acupuncture, cupping therapy, Chuna therapy, and herbal medicine. These approaches to SOA are considered “conservative” because they do not incorporate surgery or drug treatment.

A research team conducted the study with 186 patients hospitalized for more than seven days due to SOA and who received integrative KM treatment for more than one week between January 2015 and July 2020. Of the original 186 patients, 103 participated in follow-up surveys.

To analyze the treatment effects objectively, the team used rating scales. The NRS, a numerical rating scale that measures patient-reported pain (on a scale of 0-10, with 10 indicating the most pain), provided the primary outcome measurement. The shoulder pain and disability index (SPDI) measures pain and impairment (on a scale of 1-100, with 100 representing the most serious pain and impairments). A health-related quality of life scale (EQ-5D) measures five dimensions of quality of life: mobility, self-care, usual activities, pain/discomfort, and anxiety/depression.

The results at discharge indicated positive changes in all patient indicators after integrative KM treatment.

The pain rating score decreased from a moderate level of 6.09 before treatment to a mild level of 4.02 after treatment. The shoulder pain and disability index fell significantly, from a severe impairment level of 55.00 to  35.42.

Quality of life also improved as measured by study participants’ responses to questions on the five dimensions of health-related quality of life listed above.

In addition, follow-up surveys conducted online and by telephone from September to October 2021 confirmed that the therapeutic effects continued. The NRS was 3.04, indicating that, on average, participants’ pain had continued to decrease. The SPDI was 18.95, about three times lower than at the initial admission stage, meaning that disability decreased and function increased. The quality of life score continued to improve.

The team established that integrative KM treatment had “long- and short-term efficacy” in lessening pain, improving function, and improving health-related quality of life in patients with SOA.

“The research confirmed objectively that integrative KM is effective on degenerative arthritis of the shoulder, which has a significant meaning. The researchers are expected to contribute to developing guidelines in conservative treatment for degenerative arthritis of the shoulder,” stated Dr. Yun-Young Choi, who led the project.

The study results were published in the journal Medicine on Nov. 11, 2022.

Lisa Bian

Lisa Bian is a Korea-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on Korean society, its culture, and international relations.

Sindy Lam



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