Washington, DC – A breakthrough study presented at the annual meeting of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons found that a combination of remote cognitive behavioral therapy with in-home virtual reality sessions, Vx® Therapy, is effective in reducing pain and behavioral health conditions in patients with chronic cervical and lumbar pain. For the first time ever, physicians and surgeons have a tool to help treat patients without the need for dangerous opioids or additional procedures.
“Back and neck pain is often treated with potentially addictive pain medications and even surgery,” said Matt McGirt, M.D., the presenter and author of the study. Dr. McGirt is a practicing neurosurgeon and partner at the Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates of Charlotte, the largest neurosurgery practice in the U.S. He is also co-founder of the American Spine Registry, the largest shared data-collection platform for spine outcomes.
“This study shows that there is a less dangerous and highly effective alternative. The non-invasive, non-pharmacological nature of Vx® Therapy makes it an ideal option for pain management in the post-opioid epidemic era. This is truly a breakthrough in safely alleviating the pain and suffering of millions of Americans,” stated Dr. McGirt.
While cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven effective for chronic pain and associated anxiety, depression, and physical disability, many patients cannot access this therapy because of a shortage of trained care providers, lack of adequate transportation for in-person encounters and inconsistent engagement in the therapy. Vx® Therapy, developed by Harvard MedTech, overcomes these barriers by offering therapy remotely along with an in-home virtual reality program that is guided by a behavioral health clinician.
“As a practicing neurosurgeon, it is groundbreaking to have something to address pain that treats the entire patient, not just the symptoms of pain,” said Nicholas Theodore, M.D. co-author of the study, practicing neurosurgeon and Professor of Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. “Vx Therapy is able to effectively address pain and the associated psychological sequalae that have historically been ignored by traditional biomedical healthcare models and support patients in a very wholistic manner.”
“This is the first commercially available VR product designed specifically to treat acute and chronic pain with scientific data to support those outcomes,” notes McGirt. “This marks the beginning of a new era in healthcare as we have been waiting for a technology that is programmatically created to achieve results like this. Harvard MedTech has created a platform that serves our needs as neurosurgeons, but more importantly addresses an unmet need for our patients.”
In the study, 145 workers’ compensation patients with chronic degenerative neck/back pain participated in a guided 14-week virtual reality and cognitive behavioral therapy program, Vx® Therapy. The treatment consisted of weekly telephone calls with trained therapists and 50 modules of virtual reality therapy. Patients recorded pain, anxiety, and severity scores before and immediately after the sessions, along with the time that pain began to recur. Measures recorded included daily pain intensity, pain behavior, pain interference, anxiety, and depression.
After 14 weeks, results showed that the therapy acutely reduced pain during use by an average of 33 percent, lasting for an average of 2.8 hours after use. Anxiety was reduced by 46%.
“Patients’ pain levels were cut in half with this treatment, and this relief lasted up to four hours after the session. These results are what we see when a person takes a four-hour opioid tablet, but without the side effects and without the danger of addiction,” notes Dr. McGirt. “We are also seeing that the person’s ability to function increases during the 14-week treatment. These findings have tremendous implications for how we treat pain in a rapidly aging population. Now we have a proven solution that is effective, highly scalable, and conveniently delivered in a home setting.”
Other authors of the study are:
- Christopher M. Holland, MD, PhD, Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, Atrium-Wake Forest University
- S. Harrison Farber, MD, Department of Neurosurgery, Barrow Neurological Institute, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center
- Scott L. Zuckerman, MD, MPH, Department of Neurosurgery, Vanderbilt University
- Michael S. Spertus, MD, Whole Health in Pain Medicine, Miami Veterans Affairs Health System
- Nicholas Theodore, MD, Department of Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins University
- Deborah Pfortmiller, PhD, Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, Atrium-Wake Forest University
- Gerry Stanley, MD, Harvard MedTech
Other studies presented at the conference on related subjects found that:
- “In-home Virtual Reality Guided by Remote Cognitive Behavioural Therapists (Vx therapy TM) Reduces Pain, Anxiety, And Depression in Patients with Orthopedic Upper Extremity, Lower Extremity, Spinal”: Vx® Therapy provided sustained relief for both acute and chronic orthopedic multisystem pain, regardless of pain duration. It also reduced anxiety, depression, and pain interference with physical and recreational activities.
- “Effect of workers’ compensation status on pain, disability, quality of life, and return to work after anterior cervical discectomy and fusion: a 1-year propensity score–matched analysis”: Workers’ compensation patients fared worse than other patients in treatment outcomes. Workers’ compensation status was associated with greater one-year residual disability and axial pain along with delayed return to work, without any difference in quality of life despite having fewer comorbidities and being a younger population. Workers’ compensation status was also associated with significantly greater residual disability and pain post-operatively, a lower quality of life, and delayed return to work.
- “Mental Health Comorbidities in Workers’ Compensation Patients and the Effect on Pain, Disability, Quality of Life, and Return to Work After Lumbar Spine Surgery”: Workers’ Disparities in outcomes after lumbar spine surgery in workers’ compensation patients are exacerbated in patients with anxiety and depression. Those with mental health comorbidities receive the least benefit from lumbar spine surgery and may represent the most vulnerable subset of patients with spinal pathology.