A local physical therapy company is part of an early wave of providers using virtual reality to augment pain management treatments.
Redbud Physical Therapy received the equipment a few weeks ago and will begin incorporating it into its regular therapy regimen.
“The reason we’re putting energy around this is the opioid epidemic,” said Amy Malone, Redbud’s regional director. “We’re looking into different ways to combat chronic pain, and virtual reality is a way that can happen.”
Redbud is an outpatient physical therapy provider with 15 locations in the Tulsa area offering a wide range of services including pre- and post-surgery treatment and generalized pain treatment.
Virtual reality is being used to give patients an interactive experience to help them understand pain.
“There’s a lot of fear around pain, and all of that is in your brain,” Malone said. “What virtual reality does is it decouples pain and activity to help patients understand that activity can help improve their pain instead of causing it.”
Someone in chronic pain experiences changes in their body chemistry that heightens their central nervous system, changes their hormones and reduces their threshold for pain.
With the virtual reality therapy, patients are placed in VR goggles and noise-canceling headphones inside a dark room and are guided through interactive lessons on what pain is and how they can help manage it by understanding it.
There is also a module where patients can learn diaphragmatic breathing and pick the setting where they’d like to relax. Choices include the beach, the lake and the mountains.
“You can look around and hear the breeze. It’s pretty awesome,” said Debbie Mason, marketing director with Redbud.
The VR treatment is part of a conventional physical therapy session and can be used at the beginning to help relax the patient to prepare for activity or after a session to help dial down their pain and heart rate.
Confluent Health, Redbud’s corporate owner, started using the program about six months ago in Texas.
BehaVR, the company who created the software, worked with physical therapists to create the six 15-minute modules used in the treatment program.
“In the western world we don’t talk about mindfulness and breathing, so this is kind of a change in the way we communicate,” Malone said. “We are at the forefront of using this to combat the opioid epidemic and chronic pain.”
Redbud offers aquatic therapy at eight locations and specializations including dry needling, vestibular imbalance and pelvic health. The company’s first location opened 22 years ago in Sand Springs.