The combination of virtual reality and behavioral health is a novel and effective option for resolving pain in the workplace, according to results of an article published October 16, 2021, in the peer-reviewed journal “Pain and Therapy.”
“Up until now, the primary way to treat people with chronic pain or the effects of trauma was to use drugs, surgery, or long-term therapy,” said Gerry Stanley, M.D., one of the study authors and Chief Medical Officer for Harvard MedTech. “Now we understand that targeted therapy using virtual reality and customized coaching, all delivered within the home, can help the brain override the experience of pain, anxiety and depression, without the potential dangers of drugs or surgery. It is a revolutionary breakthrough in how we can treat these patients, alleviating their suffering and helping them to return to their normal lives.”
A deeper understanding of how the brain can re-train itself to heal from trauma plus a heavier reliance on remote therapy during the pandemic are behind the emerging interest in virtual reality, combined with behavioral health, to treat pain and trauma. The impact of the virtual reality experience is supported by the Gate Control Theory of pain, which posits that alternative stimuli can reduce the intensity of physical pain by blocking pain messages at nerve gates in the spinal cord.
The “Pain and Therapy” article documents results with a cohort of adult patients aged 18 – 65 who were treated from April 2019 to April 2020 for acute or chronic workplace injuries and were on workers compensation. All patients were referred to and overseen by a prescribing physician and referred to the Harvard MedTech Vx Pain Relief Program by orthopedic specialists, pain specialists, primary care physicians and occupational health providers.
Patients considerably reduced mean pain scores at each week, averaging a reduction of 40% while using the virtual reality headset. Their mean daily time spent thinking about pain symptoms decreased from 9.78 hours at the start of therapy to 2.76 hours after completing the 12-week program, representing a 72% reduction.
Reduction in reliance on opioids for pain control was also recorded with 69% of patients reporting a decrease in opioid use. Patients experienced a 115% increase in the duration of their sleep and a 280% increase in the subjective quality of their sleep. Finally, patients reported up to 750% improvement in the attainment of personal goals related to physical activities, social activities, attention and focus, and physical endurance.
As a result of these findings, the authors concluded that the program appears to provide meaningful reductions in pain and opioid use, while also improving the psychosocial aspects of pain, such as sleep, behavior, and physical activity.
In addition to Dr. Stanley, study authors include A. Abd-Elsayed, Department of Anesthesiology, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin, and N. Hussain, Department of Pain Medicine, Beth Israel, Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical Center reports the company.