Virtual reality device helps relieve chronic pain

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Experts say a new virtual reality device can help people understand and relieve chronic pain. David Espejo / Getty Images
  • Chronic pain is estimated to affect 50 million American adults.
  • Treatments, including drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy, are used to relieve pain.
  • Federal regulators have now approved a virtual reality device that, in a recent clinical study, was effective in reducing chronic pain.
  • The EaseVRx device works by immersing users in a 3D world.

On 50 million adults in the United States live with chronic pain.

Help, however, may be on the way.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a revolutionary device that could improve the daily life of people with chronic pain.

The EaseVRx is a virtual reality (VR) headset that uses techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy to help reduce pain in adults.

“The inspiration behind the EaseVRx was to create a high-quality, self-contained, standardized behavioral intervention where people could acquire a set of essential skills that have been shown by different types of treatment modalities to reduce both pain and its impacts. But now they can receive it on demand from the comfort of their own homes and in so doing, transcending so many barriers to effective pain care, ”said Beth Darnall, PhD, director of the Stanford Pain Relief Innovations Lab in California as well as the chief science adviser and co-creator of EaseVRx.

“Individuals turn on the headphones and they find themselves in an immersive 3D world where they can see a new environment around them and be made to interact within the context of that environment to learn various information such as the role of pain in the brain, how pain exists in the central nervous system, and what can be done to soothe or calm its nervous system against the background of pain, ”Darnall told Healthline.

The VR device guides users through a treatment program of 56 sessions performed daily over an 8 week period.

The The FDA reported that in a clinical study of the device, 66% of those who used EaseVRx reported greater than 30% reduction in their pain, compared to 41% of other participants who did not use the device.

About 46 percent of those who used the device reported a reduction of more than 50 percent in their pain.

“It’s really exciting. It’s a revolutionary device, it’s also a breakthrough in terms of the conceptualization of pain and the treatment of pain,” said Darnall.

“This is not to say that it will avoid the need for drugs or other interventions, but it can work very well with any other medical treatment that a doctor or clinician deems appropriate for any patient,” she added. .

Lora L. Black, PhD, MPH, a registered psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Kansas Health System, said the device could be useful in improving access to treatment.

“This appears to be a good use of technology to improve self-regulation techniques that have been shown to be helpful for chronic pain in several studies,” she told Healthline.

“Research also shows that VR technology can increase adherence to other treatments, such as exercise, so the use of similar technology may also be helpful in increasing adherence to self-regulatory techniques.” , she added.

“A device like this can help reduce the barriers to access that many patients encounter when trying to find psychologists trained in pain-focused psychotherapy,” noted Black. “Such a device can also serve as a useful addition to those already engaged in psychological treatment of chronic pain.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment that can be used in a variety of conditions to improve daily function and quality of life.

CBT works by helping you change thought patterns and develop effective ways to cope.

It can be used in the treatment of pain to change the way people feel and experience pain.

“The medical definition of pain is that it is both a physical and an emotional response, so the responsibility of the brain is on both sides. The brain processes the physical aspects of pain and brings them to our attention, and it is also the center of the emotional aspects of pain. CBT is a method that uses the brain’s ability to influence these things to change the experience of pain, ”Dr. Matthew Smuck, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Stanford Health Care, told Healthline.

Dr. Gene Tekmyster, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Keck Medicine of USC, said pain can change the way people think.

“Pain is multifactorial. There is an incredibly important psychological component. There is so much involved in making people feel pain and how much pain they feel, ”Tekmyster told Healthline.

“Because pain changes your psychology, your stress level, and actually changes your behaviors, you not only need to change the way people perceive pain, but also how it affects them and how they perceive it affects them. “, did he declare.

“His How? ‘Or’ What we’re treating the pain that CBT helps control, not really the pain itself, ”he added.

Darnall said the VR device is one more addition to the treatment options available for treating chronic pain. Other options include physical therapy, exercise, yoga, and acupuncture.

Medication can also be used, but Smuck said they are often not helpful for the long-term management of chronic pain.

“Studies have shown that they can be helpful most often in the short term, but very few studies show that drugs are helpful in managing chronic pain in the long term and this is especially true for drugs that present more risks, like opioids, ”he said.

“The amount of benefit derived from opioids is small. It really isn’t any better than what you can get from CBT. These benefits tend to be short lived due to the way the body responds to opioids. There is a substantial risk in taking opioids, including addiction, overdose and death, ”he added.

Darnall hopes the virtual reality device will make low-risk treatment options such as CBT more readily available to the public.

“Some people of course need pain relievers and we never want there to be barriers to a particular treatment that a person might need,” she said. “However, it is well appreciated and has been claimed for chronic low back pain but also chronic pain in general, we want to apply the less risky treatments first.”

“In this case, we are giving people that option, access to pain care at home and on demand,” she said.


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