October 2019 HEALTH

How virtual reality can help treat chronic pain

By Louis Zantema, Healthcare Psychologist at Leeuwarden Medical Centre (The Netherlands) and Co-founder at Reducept Imagine living with pain every day. One in five adults suffers from chronic pain and many of them have been struggling with it for years. Chronic pain is the reality for 1.5 billion people worldwide. It’s one of the leading causes for sick leave and unemployment. And it doesn’t end there. Besides the pain itself, the lack of proper treatment options and medicalisation of pain have set everything in place for what is now called ‘the pain epidemic’.
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The cultural view that ‘no one should suffer from pain’ has spread. Having started in the United States, we see a view that has led to severe medicalisation. In the efforts to ‘get rid of all the pain’, prescription for opioids heavily increased. This has led to an estimated 42,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone in 2016. Surgeries with limited evidence took place so often that ‘failed back surgery syndrome’ became a real thing. Yes, that’s chronic pain from having too much failed surgery on your back. In the efforts to cure pain, we’ve created a dependency on pain killers for millions. Our cultural view on pain has shifted from a problem that we owned ourselves, to a problem that should be fixed by someone or something else.

Luckily, we’re seeing a shift in perspective. People are starting to realise that quick fixes to complex problems and medicalising pain hasn’t led to sustainable solutions. The evidence that you can reduce pain by teaching people how their pain works and training them in how to cope with pain is growing. People can take ownership of their pain and be trained in how to start fixing it themselves. This not only reduces pain, it also decreases depression and anxiety rates.

The question is then: how do you train people in a way that is so scalable and accessible that it can compete with medication? That’s where the mobile application Reducept comes in. In line with our mission to educate and train people with chronic pain worldwide, we’ve created a digital journey that takes place in Virtual Reality. This journey leads people through their own nervous system. Teaching about pain and, more importantly, actively training and rewiring the brain to perceive pain differently. This allows people to gain the skills to take control of their pain. Reducept doesn’t use Virtual Reality as a gimmick, but to optimise the training’s influence on the emotional parts of our brain.


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