ORLANDO, Fla. - Fifty million adults in the United States are living with chronic pain. In the past, pills were the most popular form of treatment.
"It became the quick fix," said Jeff Hathaway, the CEO and founder of Breakthrough Physical Therapy. "Give someone a pill, and then they'll be able to do more."
Then came the opioid epidemic, which shed light on how using pills to treat chronic pain provided more pain than gain.
"It's not really addressing what we now know leads to ongoing, persistent pain," Hathaway continued, "and so, until we address the real cause, we're just simply putting a Band-Aid."
But now gaming technology is providing another alternative to opioids. A study at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found hospitalized patients who used virtual reality to manage their pain had a 24% reduction in their pain scores, and even at-home testing of VR headsets managed by patients proved to be effective in reducing pain and stress levels and improving moods. The programs work by using cognitive behavioral therapy to distract patients and make their pain seem less important.
Companies, such as XR Health and Applied VR, are allowing patients to use headsets at home under the care of a healthcare professional. Studies show that VR is not only effective in preventing the use of opioids, but also in reducing use in people who are already on them allowing them to have a pain-free and a pill-free life.
Virtual reality is also making an appearance in the delivery room. Instead of an epidural, many women may be given the option of a virtual reality experience to manage labor pains.