RALEIGH, N.C. - Mia Hrabec is doing amazingly well just four months out of spine surgery.
"I had what is called a meningioma, which is a benign tumor on my spinal cord," Hrabec shared.
She underwent a five-hour surgery to remove the tumor, but Hrabec was determined not to rely on opioids for pain.
"Pain medication was a concern for me, because I have seen the effects on family members and loved ones," said Hrabec.
"It became the quick fix," said Jeff Hathaway, a physical therapist and CEO and founder of Breakthrough Physical Therapy. "Give someone a pill, and then they'll be able to do more."
Hathaway said we were taught the body tells the brain how to perceive pain, when the opposite is true.
"The brain decides whether the signal it's getting is important and whether you should feel pain or not," he explained.
Hathaway said the key is giving patients the tools to desensitize their central nervous system and lower their sensitivity to pain.
He's using virtual reality technology combined with physical therapy to help patients manage pain without pills.
Patients are asked to rate their pain level and concentrate on mindful meditation. Hrabec did the VR sessions pre- and post-surgery. She took only three of the oxycodones she was prescribed.
"This is a game-changer," Hathaway said. "We can see a complete elimination, or at least a reduction."
"You can manage your pain without pain medication," Hrabec said.
Hrabec is feeling stronger every day and said if she can do it, anyone can.
Breakthrough Therapy tracked post-surgical patients in the program for one year and found that the cost of care was reduced by 45%, which meant fewer pain medications and fewer visits to the emergency room.
The developers of the VR therapy hope to make it part of a physical therapy regimen in centers around the country. Right now, insurance covers the VR sessions as part of a physical therapy program. If used without insurance, the cost is $90 a session.