Study: Digital MSK program improves chronic, disabling shoulder pain

A digital musculoskeletal program has improved function and chronic shoulder pain, according to a study published in Journal of Pain Research.

The study used SWORD Health’s digital MSK tool and some of the authors were employees of SWORD.

“This study supports the utility of tele-rehabilitation – in particular of digital care programs – in the management of shoulder conditions, showing results comparable to those reported.” about on-site care,” the authors write.


The researchers found that QuickDASH scores, a survey of disability levels, decreased by 51.6% after 12 weeks of the digital MSK care program.

They also noted improvements in secondary measures, including 54.8% reduction in pain, 55.5% reduction in intention to have surgery, 37.7% reduction in fear avoidance beliefs, and 66.5% reduction in loss productivity, 50.3% reduction in anxiety and 63.6% reduction in depression. Of those who used painkillers for pain at the start of the study, 44.1% had stopped consuming the drug at the end of the program.

The researchers also noted that older users were more likely to stick with the program than younger participants.

“This study reported a number of interesting findings, the most striking aspect being that supplementers were older than non-supplementers and with a much larger proportion of patients over 60 years of age. In addition, patients highly engaged are older,” they wrote.

“These two realities challenge the notion that older populations are less accepting of digital health. As expected, early additions correspond to a less disabled population.”


The study included 296 patients who started the digital MSK program, with 234 of whom completed the intervention. The program includes homeschooling and exercises guided by a tablet app and measured via motion sensors. A physical therapist remotely and asynchronously monitored, chatted, or called the participants at least once a week. They also have Monthly Video calls.

Participants were asked to exercise at least three times per week for 12 weeks, although they could be discharged earlier if a physical therapist determines it is appropriate.

The researchers assessed success using the Rapid Arm, Shoulder, and Hand Disability Questionnaire (QuickDASH), Numerical Pain Rating Scale, analgesic consumption, and intention to have surgery. techniques, the GAD-7 anxiety survey, the PHQ-9 depression survey, the fear-avoidance beliefs questionnaire, and the performance and impairment questionnaire.


Several digital MSK companies earned in major funding rounds last year, including SWORD Health’s $163 million Series EASY. The startup also raised a $25 million Series B in January and a $85 million Series C.

But SWORD is not alone in space. Others include Kaia’s Health, RecoveryOne, SpineZone, DarioHealth and hinge health. Hinge, also self-raised huge funding rounds last yearrecently publish results from a study evaluate the long-term impact of the program on pain.


Some of the benefits of the study, the researchers say, include a larger sample size and geographically diverse population, as the participants came from 43 different states. However, there was no control group or long-term follow-up.

For future research, they recommend randomized controlled trials comparing digital programs to each other or to face-to-face therapy, ideally with longer follow-up periods.

Significant changes in disability status, pain intensity, medication intake, intention for surgery, mental health, and productivity were achieved comparable to changes in RCTs associated with conventional physical therapy,” the authors write. “We believe that digital modalities hold great promise in providing accessible and effective rehabilitation approaches that address the global burden of chronic pain.”

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