Sunday 12 July 2020

Virtual reality: Dutch firm wins prize for gaming pain away

Photo: Depositphotos.com

A Frisian company which has developed a virtual reality headset to combat chronic pain has won the prestigious UN World Summit Award.

Exactly how many people are suffering from chronic pain in the Netherlands is not known but their number runs into the thousands, medical experts say. Often the pain has no clear cause. The conventional treatment is painkillers but these are costly and don’t always work.

The VR treatment tackles the pain by training the brain, psychologist Louis Zantema, who founded Reducept, told broadcaster NOS.

‘People with chronic pain are oversensitive to the pain signal sent by the body to the brain. The therapy helps the nervous system because the brain believes healing is taking place,’ he said.

Shooting down the pain

‘When you put on the VR headset you travel into in your own nervous system. The painful spots show up as small red dots which you shoot at, as if you were playing a game,’ Zantema explained.

After ‘shooting down’ the pain the next step is a mindfulness exercise focusing on the spinal cord. ‘There we are using a psychological trick which also works for people suffering from trauma. The patient does a complicated exercise which is alternated with an intensive focusing on the pain.’

Professor Harry van Goor tested the VR headset on 40 people all of whom experienced a reduction in pain symptoms. He says the treatment offers hope to many while saving money at the same time.

‘Chronic pain is causing depression and is putting a lot of pressure on the health system. The medication either doesn’t help or is addictive and waiting lists for the specialist pain clinics are very long,’ he told NOS.

The treatment is available at over 50 healthcare institutions but is not covered by health insurers. A session costs €15 apart from the cost of buying a VR headset.

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