Pain patients find relief through digital therapy

Orion studied the efficacy of VR-based digital therapy for pain patients – and found significant benefits.

In Orion’s clinical, randomised, double-blind study, patients suffering chronic pain gained relief through digital therapy based on virtual reality (VR). For adult patients with chronic low back pain, the differences in their fear of movement, their belief in the efficacy of treatment and their quality of life were statistically more significant than was the case with either passive control (placebo treatment) or conventional treatment methods.

The participants were aged between 26 and 75 years and had suffered from chronic pain for a long time. As the study had attracted wide interest, the targeted number of patients was quickly signed up.

“Yes, they had a very positive attitude. There is clearly a great need for new treatments and solutions, as the current therapies do not work sufficiently well for all patients, or they are not available for all who need help,” says Sammeli Liikkanen Director of Digital Medicine at Orion.

Clinical psychotherapy through gaming

Orion's digital therapy consists of software designed for VR devices intended for medical use. The therapy under development consists of a range of psychological and therapeutic modules that are combined into solutions relevant for each patient’s individual needs, and can be used flexibly to complement the wide range of other healthcare solutions.

“The study tested therapeutic solutions based on pain psychology, focusing on the effects of chronic pain and on typical problems related to treatments,” says Liikkanen.

During the gaming, the participants would address matters related to pain psychology, such as setbacks or frustrations. They would also actively perform physical tasks. “The gaming also involves features that deliberately cause setbacks whose purpose is to make the patient aware that there is no danger involved, even if they are not successful in some task,” says Liikkanen.

He further points out that the aim of the study was not to treat pain itself, but rather the impact of chronic pain on people – that is, the effects that it causes. “We aimed to focus on the psychological, physical and social consequences that are typically felt to be more difficult than the actual sensation of pain. The goal is to subvert these effects and help people break what is often a ‘vicious circle’.”

Development continues

All the indicators that were evaluated in the clinical trial suggested the same results: statistically significant improvements could be achieved in the fear of movement, as well as in each patient’s own experience and assessment of their quality of life.

Following these promising results, VR-based digital therapy will now undergo further development, and the search is underway for a suitable partner. “Our goal is to develop and launch a solution for therapeutic use as quickly as possible,” says Liikkanen.

Liikkanen believes that one of the outcomes of the development work could be a tool that complements other treatments available to patients suffering chronic pain. “There is far too little clinical pain therapy available, for example. Human beings have this tremendous power within their own minds, which we could harness to help us – but it can also cause problems.”

The software used in the study is also related to the MASSE project run by Aalto University in which scientists are studying how to streamline extended care pathways. In this parallel project to the MASSE project, Orion is investigating how well the digital therapy solutions (DTx) developed by the company actually complement extended treatment processes and how they could be optimised to meet the individual needs of patients.

Further information on the study:
Orion press release 9 June 2021 

Further information on the MASSE project:
Digital therapies to complement pharmaceutical treatment | Orion

Text: Johanna Paasikangas