AppliedVR, a Los Angeles-based virtual reality company, has announced that its EaseVRx headset has received Breakthrough Device Designation from the Food and Drug Administration for treating fibromyalgia and chronic intractable lower back pain.
EaseVRx is the first virtual reality (VR) device to get a Breakthrough Designation from the FDA for treating a chronic pain condition. The designation speeds up the development and review of new medical devices that treat life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases or conditions. It could also speed up insurance coverage of VR therapy for chronic pain.
“AppliedVR is the most evidence-backed VR platform on the market, and today’s FDA designation demonstrates that health experts across the spectrum recognize the therapeutic potential of VR as a viable treatment for pain,” Matthew Stoudt, CEO and co-founder of AppliedVR, said in a statement.
“Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupting Americans’ ability to get in-person care safely, we’re looking forward to getting EaseVRx into the hands of people suffering from pain. Providers believe in it, patients want it, and payers are coming around to it.”
AppliedVR funded a recent clinical trial that showed VR therapy can be self-administered at home to treat chronic pain. Patients living with fibromyalgia or chronic lower back pain were given VR headsets and instructed to watch at least one virtual reality program daily for 21 days.
The programs immerse users in a “virtual” environment where they can swim with dolphins, play games or enjoy beautiful scenery. The goal is to help patients learn how to manage their pain and other symptoms by distracting them and making their pain seem less important
At the end of the study, 84 percent of the patients reported they were satisfied with VR therapy. Their pain intensity was reduced an average of 30 percent. Physical activity, mood, sleep and stress levels also improved.
“Virtual reality is a promising skills-based behavioral medicine that has been shown to have high patient engagement and satisfaction,” said Beth Darnall, PhD, AppliedVR’s chief science advisor. “However, chronic pain patients to date have had very limited access to it, so we’re excited to continue working with the FDA to develop our platform and get it into the market faster.”
PNN columnist Madora Pennington, who lives with chronic pain from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, recently reviewed one of AppliedVR’s headsets. She said watching VR programs helped calm and relax her.
“The benefits of VR therapy continued for me after the sessions ended. When pain or panic about pain began to set in, I found it drifts away rather than latching onto me like it used to,” Madora wrote. “After a couple weeks of VR, during a visit to physical therapist, I noticed I was no longer afraid of her touching my neck and back, and actually enjoyed it.”
AppliedVR’s technology is currently being used in hundreds of hospitals, but devices are not expected to be available for home use until next year. The company is working with Geisinger Health and Cleveland Clinic on two studies to see if VR therapy can be used as an opioid-sparing tool for acute and chronic pain.