The Practice of Korean Medicine
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The Practice of Korean Medicine

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The Practice of Korean Medicine: An Overview of Clinical Trials in Acupuncture

Yong-Suk Kim1, Hyungjoon Jun1, Younbyoung Chae2, Hi-Joon Park3, Bong Hyun Kim4, Il-Moo Chang4, Sung-keel Kang5 and Hye-Jung Lee2,*

1Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, College of Oriental Medicine, Kangnam Korean Hospital Seoul, South Korea, 2Department of Oriental Medical Science, Graduate School of East-West Medical Science Seoul, South Korea, 3Department of Meridian and Acupuncture, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University Seoul, South Korea, 4Natural Products Research Institute, Seoul National University Seoul, South Korea, and 5Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, College of Oriental Medicine, Kyung Hee University South Korea

Acupuncture, one of the Oriental medical therapeutic techniques that can be traced back at least 2500 years, is growing in popularity all over the world. Korea has continued to develop its own unique tradition of medicine throughout its long history, and has formed different types of acupuncture methods. The purpose of this review is to summarize clinical case studies in acupuncture and related therapies, such as acupressure, electric acupuncture, auricular acupuncture and moxibustion in Korea. A survey of Korean journals revealed that a total of 124 studies were published from 1983 to 2001. Results obtained from the survey showed that most clinical studies using acupuncture, electric acupuncture, moxibustion and other traditional therapies could alleviate a relatively broad range of medical problems. However, it should be emphasized that almost all clinical case studies published in various local journals did not follow the ‘good clinical practice‘ with respect to regulatory aspects. Since they were not conducted using the randomized double-blinded controls with a large sample size, all the results should be considered as therapeutic indications. This review is an attempt to show the scope of acupuncture in our country and the kind of diseases, after many years of clinical experience, that were deemed valid targets for clinical trials.

Keywords: acupuncture - clinical study - Korean acupuncture


Acupuncture, one of the Oriental medical therapeutic techniques inherited from ancient East Asia, is gaining popularity in the West as an alternative and complementary therapeutic intervention (1). Acupuncture is now being used in Western medicine to treat postoperative-induced and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, postoperative dental pain, drug addiction, stroke rehabilitation and asthma (2). Korea has continued to develop its own unique traditional medicine throughout its long history, and has formed different types of acupuncture methods, apart from those of traditional Chinese medicine. An inspanidualized approach based on constitutional energy traits and practical approaches applying new therapeutic modalities have been developed for treatment of disorders (3).

A large number of clinical studies using acupuncture have been performed to demonstrate its efficacy for many kinds of diseases, such as pain (headache, facial pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, lower back pain and knee pain), stroke, facial palsy and other diseases in Korea. A wide range of control groups were used in these studies. Acupuncture and acupuncture-related therapies have been compared with various forms of control acupuncture, standard care, no treatment, baseline conditions and placebo acupuncture. These inconsistencies make the task of designing and performing systematic reviews or meta-analyses more difficult. However, non-controlled clinical trials might also be useful for the overview that they provide of what is known so far, with data that may inform future research. This review is an attempt to show a variety of applications for acupuncture treatments performed by the traditional Korean medical sector.

   Clinical Studies Using Acupuncture Treatment in Korea

Acupuncture for Pain


Lee and Kim (4) analyzed the effect of acupuncture treatment at trigger points in 27 patients with headache. Lee et al. (5) compared the effect of acupuncture at trigger points with the effect of acupuncture at remote acupuncture points in patients who were diagnosed as having tension-type headaches. A clinical study of auricular acupuncture was also done in 55 patients with headaches (6). Clinical studies of acupuncture and auricular acupuncture for tension-type headaches were also performed (7,8) (Table 1).

Facial Pain

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a musculoskeletal problem of the masticatory system and is quite commonly treated by acupuncture in the general population. It was reported that 8 and 10 cases, respectively, of TMD were treated by acupuncture (9,10). Wang et al. (11) treated by Dong-Qi acupuncture and subjectively evaluated TMD and facial pain (Table 2).


Neck Pain

Chun and Lee (12) treated patients with chronic neck pain by using electric acupuncture (0.3 x 40 mm, 3.5-12 Hz, 9 V). Kim and Lee (13) compared the group treated by both acupuncture and manipulation (chuna) treatment with the group only treated by acupuncture. A clinical study investigated the clinical applications of Oriental medical therapies including acupuncture treatment together with herbal therapy and hot pack for patients complaining of cervical pain caused by traffic accidents (14). It was reported that acupuncture treatment was effective in 50 patients with cervical pain (15). Lee and Lee (16) treated 25 patients with neck pain with electric acupuncture together with herbal therapy, cupping therapy and hot pack. It was also reported that acupuncture was effective in treating 50 patients with herniated cervical disc (17) (Table 3).

Shoulder Pain

Forty-three patients suffering from frozen shoulder during physical exercise were treated by acupuncture, moxibustion and electric acupuncture, and evaluated with Apley scratch test. A total of 16.3% of them reported that the results of treatment were excellent and 30.2% of them reported that they were good (18). Cho and Lee (19) showed the correlation between digital infrared thermography image (DITI) data and changes in clinical symptoms after acupuncture treatment in patients with frozen shoulder (Table 4) (Fig. 1).


Low Back Pain

A series of 20 cases with lumbar herniated disc disease were treated by acupuncture (20). It was reported that acupuncture and herbal medicine alleviated the symptoms of the herniation of lumbar intervertebral disc (21-25). It was also reported that bee venom acupuncture (BVA) was beneficial for treating herniated intervertebral disc (HIVD) (26). Park et al. (27) performed clinical studies using acupuncture and manipulation treatment on 30 HIVD patients. It was found that microcurrent electrical neuromuscular stimulation was significantly effective in decreasing the visual analog scores of patients with lower back pain (28). Park et al. (29) reported a clinical study of the stability of the lumbosacral angle of 69 patients suffering from lower back pain. The morphological changes were demonstrated by computed tomographic scan examination of acute HIVD patients who underwent Oriental medical treatment (30).

A clinical study compared acupuncture with electric acupuncture for patients with HIVD (31). Park and Lee (32) compared the effect of electric acupuncture with the effect of Dong-si acupuncture on patients with HIVD. Lee and Hwang (33) compared electric acupuncture with electric acupuncture and Saam acupuncture in HIVD patients. Yoon et al. (34) compared acupuncture at A-shi points with acupuncture on acupuncture points in HIVD patients. Chae et al. (35) compared conventional acupuncture with Eight constitution acupuncture and demonstrated that Eight constitutional acupuncture was more beneficial than conventional acupuncture for the treatment of HIVD patients.

Electric acupuncture decreased the frequency of radiating pain in lumbar spondylosis (36)

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