How VR Therapy Can Help Reduce Chronic Pain (+Webinar)

Chronic pain
1. What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain means that pain has been influencing your life negatively, on a daily basis. Pain is called ‘chronic’ when it has been impacting you for over three months. However, four out of five people with chronic pain report that they’ve been having pain for over two years.

The origin of chronic pain can be very diverse. Sometimes there is a clear somatic cause for pain, for example when there is a clear rheumatoid of oncological disorder. In many cases, the origin of the pain is unclear, or the original cause has been healed. No matter the cause, pain is always produced in our brain.

How our brain produces pain is quite interesting. Although most of us experience pain regularly, knowledge of how pain arises is not common. So here it is: your brain produces pain when it senses danger. Comparing our brain to a computer computes this sense of danger based on two types of information: physical information and emotional information. 

Physical information is any information from our body. These signals travel through our nerves, all the way up to our brain. If you hit your finger with a hammer, for example, signals from your hand will travel through your arm and spinal cord up to the brain. However, emotional information is also considered when creating pain. Emotional information can be very diverse. What you think, how you feel, what you are doing and where your attention is at the moment are all part of the information the brain is considering. Our brain processes all this physical and emotional information with super speed to detect danger. 

Although most pain is a mix of physical and emotional information, both streams of information can lead the brain to create pain. There can be pain with, or without, damage in the body. Especially in chronic pain, research has shown that emotional information plays a large role in the amount of pain we feel. This is not surprising if we look at the number of people who continue to have pain even after medical procedures or the use of medication. 

The good news is that our brain is flexible. It can be trained, so the impact of this emotional information decreases. 

2. Why Virtual Reality for Pain works

One great way to decrease the amount of pain we feel based on emotional information is Virtual Reality (VR). One of the first applications of VR in the field of pain was to offer a distraction to a patient. If you’ve ever experienced VR, you are probably familiar with the effect. VR draws so much of your attention, that you will hardly be able to focus on anything else, especially when you have to do tasks in VR simultaneously. When there is less attention available for pain, the perceived amount of pain decreases. This effect has made VR a go-to solution in many situations where discomfort and acute pain are common, take, for instance, dialysis, chemotherapy, blood testing or even childbirth. 

For chronic pain, the problem is slightly different. Distraction is not a long-term strategy, it’s simply not convenient to enter VR every time pain arises. That is why it is important to train the brain using VR, in such a way that your brain will create less pain when you are outside of VR. This can be done by training the way your brain thinks, feels, behaves and pays attention to your pain. Luckily, researchers and psychologists have over 50 years of experience in this field – which we are now applying for the first time to VR with Reducept.

3. How Reducept treats Chronic Pain in VR

For the past 4 years at Reducept, we’ve been doing VR experiments and research on VR and chronic pain. As you might recall, our brain produces pain when it senses danger. The interesting thing about VR is that the right VR experience can actually influence this sense of danger. We designed an intervention that makes your brain believe that there is no danger – and your nervous system and brain have been healed. Reprogramming the brain with this new emotional image decreases the amount of pain many patients can feel over time, and not only during the VR exercises but also in daily life. Other training elements in Reducept are focused on influencing the way you think about pain, how you behave in daily life and training your attention system to focus less on the pain. In this way, all the separate streams of emotional information are taken care of.

In 2020, a Dutch physiotherapist Lisanne Tilma trained 55 patients for a month with Reducept and examined the results afterwards. 

After just one month, 74% of the participants indicated that they experienced less pain in their daily lives and 66% reported that their quality of life had increased.  

One of the patients put it this way: “It makes me happier and more energetic. It gives me confidence. I am renewing patterns. I feel mentally stronger. I was more insecure because of my illness. In addition, I manage to do activities again, such as washing windows, this I have not been able to do myself for years!”

4. How does the Reducept VR solution work? 

As a patient, you get access to Reducept in VR, to our educational movies, audio exercises and a digital workbook. During a 6-week period, you train in VR at least three times a week with Reducept, each session takes about 30-45 minutes. In addition to the VR training, each week you watch an educational video explaining the weekly topic. In your workbook, you can find a variety of exercises to apply in your daily life. When completing the program, you have all the knowledge and tools to understand how your pain works and which strategies can help you work further towards a life that is less constrained by pain. For most people, the change is gradual. Our brain is very flexible, but training it takes time.

5. How do professionals use Reducept?

Chronic pain treatment specialists, from physiotherapists to anesthesiologist, promptly discover the benefits of integrating the Reducept VR therapy into their practice. Despite international guidelines stating that pain education and pain management training are essential in any chronic pain treatment, the practical application of these strategies is often bypassed by other interventions as pain education and pain management can be time-consuming and rather complex. With Reducept, patients acquire ample knowledge on how pain works and skillset to manage it successfully while training with the VR app. With Reducept, professionals can focus on what matters most: translating these insights into real-life scenarios and making sure patients feel empowered to take control over their life.

The integration process for professionals is fairly simple and easy to set up. Reducept provides specialists with elaborated guidelines and protocols so that every patient receives a clear overview of the program and detailed therapy guidance to achieve desired targets. After the first intake session, if a patient agrees to the therapy, a specialist creates an individual treatment plan for a patient, combining VR sessions with companion mobile app sessions, educational videos, articles and workbook exercises. It means that the therapy will start at the health institute, but patients are encouraged to continue building up their skillset at the comfort of their house. Every live session with a professional contains two elements: exercises in VR and a discussion of the insights afterwards. A specialist helps patients reflect on the provided education, translate new knowledge into daily life scenarios and track their progress. On average, a patient will receive 3-5 live sessions of the Reducept therapy, possibly combined with other XRHealth applications.

6. How to start with Reducept

If you suffer from chronic pain, you can start using Reducept through the XRHealth Virtual Clinic. Register online and select “pain management.” Answer a few questions, choose your own XRHealth clinician, and schedule an appointment in as little as 48 hours.

If you are a pain professional interested in working with Reducept, you can find more information about referring your patients to the XRHealth Virtual Clinic on the website. To get in touch with XRHealth, fill out the Contact Us form. You can find more information about Reducept on https://www.reducept.com/.

Webinar: How VR brain training can help reduce chronic pain

Watch our recent co-hosted webinar to learn more about what causes chronic pain, the role of the brain when you are experiencing one, and how VR can help with pain treatment.

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