Virtual Reality Can Literally Take Your Pain Away

Everyday we wake up to a new use for Virtual Reality, and this particular time around it’s really amazing. The easier it gets to use VR the more people experiment with it and recently a new field has been discovered: VR Pain Therapy. Imagine yourself going in to VR at the hospital, dentists office, or physical therapists office to help manage your pain level.

VR Pain Therapy

A team of researchers in the Cedars-Sinai medical center worked with one hundred patients to evaluate VR as a technology and technique to reduce pain. The study participants were already hospitalized and reported feeling strong pain.

Doctors usually ask patients to rate their pain level from 0 to 10, therefore the researchers decided to use patients who rated at least a 4.

Half the patients were given VR Pain Therapy through relaxing VR rides and scenes. The scenes depicted flying over scenic portions of Iceland and Swimming with Whales.

While the other half, were the control group. They were shown regular videos of relaxing scenes with relaxing music on a close proximity television.

After watching the videos both groups where asked how would they rate their pain from 0 to 10 again.

The control group rated on average 13.2% lower pain after watching the videos on screen, however the VR Pain Therapy group would rate their pain a whole 24% lower on average!

How VR Pain Therapy Works

As of this moment researchers don’t fully understand why the VR Pain Therapy works. They believe however that it may have to do with the immersive nature of the experience. Meaning that being more immersed in an environment distracts the brain more, and as a result pain stimuli is hardly processed.

Brennan Spiegel, MD, director of Cedars-Sinai’s Health Service Research says that “We believe virtual reality hijacks the senses, but in a good way… It creates an immersive distraction that stops the mind from processing pain, offering a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management.”

Further Experimentation

As encouraging as it seems VR Pain Therapy has it’s limitations. The effects of pain reduction are short term and it is expected that patients will lose the pain relief after a short amount of time. Based on the positive results from this trial Cedars-Sinai is conducting larger trials.

These new trial will attempt to measure “pain medications, length of hospital stay and post-discharge satisfaction scores”

So, if you know someone in the hospital experiencing some ongoing pain while they heal, consider taking your VR headset with you when you go visit them… just realize you may not get it back.


Image Credit Kristin Klein



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