FDA Approves a New Virtual Reality Device to Help Ease Chronic Pain
July 28, 2022

Experts say a new virtual reality device can help people understand and alleviate their chronic pain.

  • Chronic pain affects an estimated 50 million adults in the US.

  • Treatments, including medications and cognitive behavioral therapy, are used to relieve pain.

  • Federal regulators have now approved a virtual reality device that was effective in reducing chronic pain in a recent clinical trial.

  • The EaseVRx device works by immersing the user in a 3D world.

About 50 million adults in the United States live with chronic pain. However, help may be on the way. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a breakthrough device that could improve the daily lives of people with chronic pain. EaseVRx is a virtual reality (VR) headset that uses techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce pain in adults.

The inspiration behind EaseVRx was to create a standardized, stand-alone, high-quality behavioral intervention where people could acquire a set of critical skills that have been demonstrated through various types of treatment modalities to reduce pain and its effects. However, they can now receive it on demand in the comfort of their own home, overcoming many barriers to effective pain management.

Individuals turn on the headset and are in an immersive 3D world where they can see a new environment around them and be directed to interact within the context of that environment to learn a variety of information such as the role of pain in the brain, how pain exists in the central nervous system, and what can be done to calm or soothe the nervous system in the context of pain.

Success in studies

The VR device takes the user through a treatment program of 56 sessions per day for 8 weeks. The FDA reported that in a clinical trial of the device, 66 percent of those who used EaseVRx reported more than a 30 percent reduction in pain, compared to 41 percent of other participants who did not use the device. About 46 percent of those who used the device reported more than a 50 percent reduction in pain. It’s really exciting. It’s a breakthrough device, it’s also a breakthrough in how we conceptualize pain and pain management.

How can the device help?

A licensed psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the university, he 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 many studies.

There is also research showing that VR technology can increase adherence to other treatments such as exercise, so using similar technology may also be useful to increase adherence to self-regulation techniques. A device like this can help lower the barriers to access that many patients face when trying to find psychologists trained in pain-focused psychotherapy, Black noted. Such a device may also serve as a useful adjunct to those already engaged in the psychological treatment of chronic pain.

Use of behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment that can be used for a variety of conditions to improve daily functioning and quality of life. CBT works by helping you change your thinking patterns and develop effective ways of coping. It can be used in pain management to change how people feel and experience pain.

The medical definition of pain is that it is both a physical and emotional response, so the brain responds by being on both sides. The brain processes and draws attention to the physical aspects of pain and is also the center for the emotional aspects of pain. CBT is a method of using the brain’s ability to influence these things to change the experience of pain.

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