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Virtual Reality Therapy Can Reduce Chronic Pain at Home

View original article on Pain News Network

Therapeutic virtual reality (VR) can reduce chronic pain, improve mood and help people sleep, according to a small study of 74 patients living with fibromyalgia or chronic lower back pain.

The research, published online in JMIR-FR, is one of the first to look at the effectiveness of VR therapy when self-administered at home by chronic pain patients. It was funded by AppliedVR , a Los Angeles based company that is developing therapeutic VR content to help treat pain, depression, anxiety and other conditions.

“People with chronic pain often have limited access to comprehensive pain care that includes skills-based behavioral medicine. We tested whether VR that was self-administered at home would be an effective therapy for chronic pain,” said Beth Darnall, PhD, a pain psychologist who is AppliedVR’s chief scientific advisor.

“We found high engagement and satisfaction, combined with clinically significant reductions in pain and low levels of adverse effects, support the feasibility and acceptability for at-home, skills-based VR for chronic pain.”

Participants in the study were given VR headsets and instructed to have at least one session daily for 21 days. Half of the patients listened to audio-only programming, while the other half watched “virtual” programs in which they could swim with dolphins, play games or immerse themselves in beautiful scenery.

The programs are designed to help patients learn how to manage their pain and other symptoms by using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to distract them and make their pain seem less important.

At the end of the study, 84 percent of the patients reported they were satisfied with VR therapy, which worked significantly better than the audio-only format in reducing five key pain indicators:

  • Pain intensity reduced an average of 30%

  • Physical activity improved 37%

  • Mood improved 50%

  • Sleep improved 40%

  • Stress reduced 49%

Previous VR studies have had similar findings, but have largely focused on patients in hospitals and clinical settings.

“This study is a fundamental step for advancing a clinically proven, noninvasive and safe digital therapeutic like VR for chronic pain, and demonstrates our platform is both viable and efficacious,” said Josh Sackman, co-founder and president of AppliedVR.

“Living with and managing chronic pain daily can be a debilitating and costly challenge, and many patients suffering from it can feel hopeless and desperate for any relief. So, as we engage in and accelerate more in-depth clinical research, we want them to know that we’re committed to making VR a reimbursable standard of care for pain.”

AppliedVR products are being used in hundreds of hospitals, but are currently only available to healthcare providers. The company recently partnered with University of California at San Francisco to study how VR therapy can improve patient care for underserved populations.

AppliedVR is also conducting two clinical trials to see if VR therapy can reduce the use of opioid medication for acute and chronic pain. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently awarded nearly $3 million in grants to fund the trials.

The company is currently recruiting patients with chronic lower back pain for an 8-week trial of VR therapy. Headsets and other material will be mailed at no cost to participants at their homes. No in-person visits are required.

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