Emory University begins NIH study using Virtual Reality therapy for back pain

Atlanta 03 January 2005Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine and Virtually Better Inc., funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are testing the use of Virtual Reality therapy to find out if it can help people with lower back pain learn how to relax, breath properly, and manage their pain.


For most people suffering from chronic lower back pain, it's a daily battle to overcome the constant agony and disruption in their lives. Not only do high levels of stress and muscle tension increase the severity of the pain, but people tend to brace when they have pain, exacerbating the pain even more. Pain can also be affected by breathing patterns when people are tense, their breathing is often more shallow or rapid, which can cause more tension in the muscles along the spine, and can affect recovery.

"Living with pain means living with a lot of stress", stated Barbara Rothbaum, PhD, co-principal investigator in the trial and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine. "It affects recreational activities, causes absence from work, and strains relationships."

The study is a randomized controlled clinical trial consisting of five virtual relaxation sessions, 50 minutes long. In the first session, participants will be given a rationale for the treatments and see an image of a professional completing an exercise tensing and relaxing muscles as they follow along. In the following four sessions they will hear a virtual voiceover of the exercise and have a choice of experiencing various relaxing images and sounds such as a virtual beach, forest, or flowers. They will also learn a relaxing breathing technique. During the sessions, the participants will be seated in a therapeutic chair using a headset adjusted for comfort.

Participants must be 18 years of age or older, have chronic lower back pain, i.e. chronic pain for six months, and must not have had back surgery. All participants complete an initial assessment, post assessment at five weeks, and a 3-month follow-up assessment. Participants assigned to the control group have the option of receiving the free treatment after three months.

Dr. Rothbaum receives research funding and is entitled to sales royalty from Virtually Better Inc., which is developing products related to the research described in this release. Dr. Rothbaum serves as consultant to and owns equity in virtually Better Inc. The terms of this arrangement have been reviewed and approved by Emory University in accordance with its conflict or interest policies. For more information on the therapy, you can contact Libby Tannenbaum, PhD at Virtually Better Inc. by phoning +1-404-634-3400.

Leslie Versweyveld

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