By: Diana Barnes-Brown for Back1
Sufferers of lower back pain can all attest to its ability to compromise even the simplest day-to-day activities, at times making even chores as simple as checking the mail seem nearly impossible. Yet, with all the suffering it causes, lower back pain is still high on the list of pain causes in adults.
Now, a new study led by Emory researchers and funded by the National Institute of Health is testing the efficacy of virtual reality in helping patients cope with this tough-to-beat pain.
Many people think of virtual reality, or VR, as a video game-like technology, responsible for creating futuristic dreamscapes with the help of a pair of goggles and some motion-sensing garments. While this is partially true, the medical application of VR floods patients with voice recordings and images designed to promote true relaxation and a meditation-like state.
|Chronic Back Pain Study|
If you suffer from chronic low back pain, you may be eligible to participate in a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. If eligible, you will receive free treatment including the use of virtual reality relaxation therapy.
For more information, call (404) 634-3400 or e-mail [email protected]
"Living with pain means living with a lot of stress," noted co-principal investigator Barbara Rothbaum, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine. Chronic pain “affects recreational activities, causes absence from work, and strains relationships," she explained.
Back pain causes stress, and unfortunately, the relationship can go both ways: Stress can also exacerbate back pain by causing symptoms including muscle tension and changes in breathing and posture.
Because of this connection, the Emory researchers and scientists at Virtually Better, the company responsible for manufacturing the VR equipment, hope to break the cycle by giving patients targeted relaxation therapy, which, if effective, may both reduce the causes of pain symptoms and increase patients’ ability to cope with what pain there is.
The study, a randomized controlled clinical study, requires patients to participate in five sessions of VR relaxation therapy, each 50 minutes long. The first session will provide patients with information about the reasoning behind the treatment, as well as audiovisual breathing and muscle relaxation training. The remaining four will instruct patients to complete the relaxation exercises via a voiceover while hearing soothing sounds and viewing peaceful images such as flowers, a beach, or a forest.
To participate in the study, patients must be 18 or older, have no history of back surgery, and suffer from chronic lower back pain, which is characterized as back pain lasting for at least six months.
Previously, Rothbaum has worked with Virtually Better on VR projects to help patients cope with fear of public speaking and Vietnam-related post-traumatic stress disorder, and Emory research has also explored the applications of VR training for heart surgeons.