For chronic pain, VR is expected to boost the effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation
spinal cord stimulation

For chronic pain, VR is expected to boost the effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation

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Patients with chronic pain receiving SCS (spinal cord stimulation) can now receive integration with an immersive VR system. It will allow patients to see and feel electrical stimulation’s effects via a virtual image of their body. It is also expected to enhance the pain-relieving effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation (based on a report in PAIN).

According to Olaf Blanke, MD, of EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne), Geneva, Switzerland, Vibhor Krishna MD, PhD, of the Ohio State University, and Ali Rezai, MD, of West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute: 

The integrated SCS-virtual reality system improves pain control over SCS alone, with fast and long-lasting effects that can increase with continuous usage.

“To our knowledge, this study shows, for the first time that it is possible to integrate immersive and multisensory VR with spinal neuromodulation and reduce chronic pain.”

Spinal cord stimulation or SCS uses gentle electrical impulses to obstruct pain signals before reaching the brain. Even though SCS is a very effective and most common treatment for chronic pain, it has its own limitations as stimulation decreases pain in only about 50% of the patients and rarely eliminates complete pain.

Studies in the past have shown that immersive and virtual reality integrating an image of the patient’s body into a 3D hologram in a VR headset can elevate pain. This new program integrates virtual reality with SCS allowing patients to view and feel the effect of SCS on a real-time virtual image of their body.

The immersive and personalized SCS-virtual reality program combines neuromodulation, virtual reality, and the newest research from cognitive neuroscience of multisensory combination into one therapeutic solution. Integration of virtual reality is a totally noninvasive addition to SCS, with the potential to improve its pain-relieving effectiveness without any adverse side-effects.

It is though not completely clear how immersive virtual reality increases the effect of SCS, but new results indicate that it is not just a distraction effect.

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