Smartphone neurofeedback improves chronic pain

  • September 26, 2022
  • William Payne

Japanese AI and neuroscience company Mediaseek has developed a smartphone application incorporating its proprietary neurofeedback engine to improve chronic pain and other disorders. The smartphone app has been the subject of a clinical trial at Chiba University Hospital to improve treatment of nonspecific chronic lower back pain.

Neurofeedback is an approach that reinforces therapy by collecting brain activity data, typically through electroencephalography (EEG), and providing the patient with either visual or sound feedback through real-time transformation. A neurofeedback session typically takes around 30 to 60 minutes. Creating a smartphone app would require processing data feedback from sensors placed on the scalp, then analysing it through a neurofeedback engine, and then visualising the data as a display, all in real-time.

Neurofeedback has been applied to a number of medical conditions including treatment of ADHD, depressive and anxiety disorders, traumatic brain injury, stroke, epilepsy, and chronic pain.

A paper on the trial on lower back pain conducted at the Pain Centre, Chiba University Hospital and directed by Assistant Professor Keisuke Shimizu, has appeared in Scientific Reports, a peer reviewed journal published by Nature.

The trial tested the neurofeedback engine incorporated into a smartphone app together with pharmacotherapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, and exercise therapy. The results showed that patients with intractable low back pain that was untreatable by existing standard treatments such as medication and blocked injections showed significant improvement in pain intensity following a new treatment method that combined cognitive-behavioural therapy and exercise therapy with neurofeedback training.

The effect of combining cognitive-behavioural therapy and neurofeedback early in the treatment was particularly high, indicating that neurofeedback plays a role in enhancing the therapeutic effects of existing treatment methods such as cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Back pain has a lifetime prevalence rate of 83% in Japan and is one of the most common health problems in the country. This study showed the effectiveness of a novel treatment protocol for low back pain that incorporates neurofeedback.

Mediaseek, registered with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government as a medical device manufacturer, plans to utilise these research results while developing its own medical device program using brain technology. The company will continue to research, develop and provide neurofeedback engines for a wide range of applications. At the same time, it intends to focus on developing services such as smartphone applications for treatment.