Study Finds VR Therapeutic Reduces Pain Intensity

A Virtual Reality (VR) therapeutic program reduces pain intensity up to six months later

Image credit: Adrian Deweerdt, Unsplash

A Virtual Reality (VR) therapeutic program reduces pain intensity up to six months later, compared with a sham app, according to a study published in JMIR.

The study was sponsored by AppliedVR and used its RelieVRx system, formerly known as EaseVRx, to assess its long-term effectiveness for people with chronic lower-back pain (CLBP). It followed up on earlier research that analyzed the immersive eight-week program, compared with a 2D sham experience immediately after treatment, reports MobiHealthNews.

Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is the most common persistent pain condition worldwide, and multiple barriers impede patient access to timely and effective care. Innovations in digital therapeutics, such as immersive virtual reality, offer the promise of home-based care, broad availability of treatment, and the potential to address the needs of underserved populations with CLBP.

Immersive VR is an evidence-based analgesic for acute low back pain, procedural low back pain, and CLBP. Many VR treatments for CLBP involve rehabilitation exercise and require therapist guidance. However, recent chronic pain research has investigated fully self-administered VR programs that require no clinician contact or guided movement exercises. Such programs closely mirror the content delivered in pain self-management or evidence-based psychological treatments for chronic pain.

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E-surveys were deployed at pretreatment, end-of-treatment, and posttreatment months 1, 2, 3, and 6. Self-reported data for 188 participants were analyzed in a mixed-model framework using a marginal model to allow for correlated responses across the repeated measures. Primary outcomes were pain intensity and pain-related interference with activity, mood, stress, and sleep at 6 months posttreatment. Secondary outcomes were Patient-Reported Outcome Measurement Information System (PROMIS) sleep disturbance and physical function.

The researchers found that the mean percentage change of pain intensity six months after the treatment was -31.3% in the VR group, compared with -15.9% in the sham group. More than half the VR group met the threshold for moderate clinical meaningfulness, while 25% of the sham group met that level.

Meanwhile, 38% of the RelieVRx cohort achieved substantial clinical meaningfulness, while only 13.2% of the sham group did.

The study also found the VR intervention improved pain-related interference with activity, stress and sleep. Though differences between the two groups for physical function and sleep disturbance were statistically significant, they weren't clinically meaningful.

"Combined, the results support the 6-month analgesic efficacy of a fully automated, 8-week, home-based VR program for CLBP," the study's authors wrote.

"Recent meta-analyses of VR noted a lack of high-quality efficacy studies for chronic pain, except for those involving physical rehabilitation programs. To our knowledge, our investigations on the extended efficacy of VR are the first involving home-based pain management without physical rehabilitation."

Jürgen Thalmayer
June 3, 2022

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