Efficacy of virtual reality to reduce chronic low back pain: Proof-of-concept of a non-pharmacological approach on pain, quality of life, neuropsychological and functional outcome

PLoS One. 2019 May 23;14(5):e0216858. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216858. eCollection 2019.


Objectives: Chronic pain, such as low-back pain, can be a highly disabling condition degrading people's quality of life (QoL). Not every patient responds to pharmacological therapies, thus alternative treatments have to be developed. The chronicity of pain can lead to a somatic dysperception, meaning a mismatch between patients' own body perception and its actual physical state. Since clinical evaluation of pain relies on patients' subjective reports, a body image disruption can be associated with an incorrect pain rating inducing incorrect treatment and a possible risk of drug abuse. Our aim was to reduce chronic low-back pain through a multimodal neurorehabilitative strategy using innovative technologies to help patients regain a correct body image.

Methods: Twenty patients with chronic low-back pain were included. Before and after treatment, patients underwent: a neurological exam; a neuro-psychological evaluation testing cognitive functions (memory, attention, executive functions) and personality traits, QoL and mood; pain ratings; sensorimotor functional abilities' testing. Patients underwent a 6 week-neurorehabilitative treatment (total 12 sessions) using virtual reality (VRRS system, Khymeia, Italy). Treatment consisted on teaching patients to execute correct movements with the painful body parts to regain a correct body image, based on the augmented multisensory feedback (auditory, visual) provided by the VRRS.

Results: Our data showed significant reductions in all pain rating scale scores (p<0.05); significant improvements of QoL in the domains of physical functioning, physical role functioning, bodily pain, vitality, and social role functioning; improvements in cognitive functions (p<0.05); improvements in functional scales (p<0.05) and mood (p = 0.04).

Conclusion: This non-pharmacological approach was able to act on the multi-dimensional aspects of pain and improved patients' QoL, pain intensity, mood and patient's functional abilities.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Aged
  • Body Image
  • Chronic Pain* / physiopathology
  • Chronic Pain* / psychology
  • Chronic Pain* / rehabilitation
  • Exercise Movement Techniques*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Low Back Pain* / physiopathology
  • Low Back Pain* / psychology
  • Low Back Pain* / rehabilitation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurological Rehabilitation*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Virtual Reality

Grant support

This work was provided by the Italian Ministry of Health (Bando Conto capitale 2015) to SI. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.