Virtual reality could ease severe pain

Playing virtual reality games or relaxing in a virtual nature environment could help ease chronic pain, particularly when symptoms are severe, a new experiment suggests.

120 hospitalized patients in the study had rated their pain as at least 3 out of 10 in the past 24 hours. Half of the patients were randomly chosen to wear virtual reality headsets three times a day for the next 48 hours; the other half served as a control group and were told to watch health and wellness programs on television in their rooms that included guided relaxation, poetry readings and discussions on health topics.

With virtual reality (VR), patients reported an average decrease in pain scores of 1.72 points, compared to an average decrease of 0.46 points for the control group.

“We found that virtual reality helped reduce pain in many types of pain: gastrointestinal, cancer, orthopedic, neurological, etc., and that it reduced pain the most in people with the most severe pain,” said Dr. Brennan Spiegel , lead study author and professor of medicine and public health at Cedars-Sinai Health System and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Pain ratings of 0 represented no pain and scores of 10 represented the worst pain imaginable.

Among people who initially rated their pain at least 7 out of 10, the average pain score reductions were 3.04 points with VR compared with 0.93 in the control group.

While the experiment wasn’t designed to test how virtual reality helps relieve pain, it can work in a number of ways, Spiegel said.

“It creates an illusion of speeding up time, effectively shortening the duration of pain episodes,” Spiegel said. “And it cuts off signals in the flare at their source, preventing pain from reaching the brain.”

Virtual reality technology has been around for decades, first in prominence when the military used it for flight simulators. Older hardware filled an entire room, but as the technology has gotten smaller and cheaper to produce, it is increasingly being used for a variety of medical purposes, including trauma and phobia therapy, wound care, therapy. physical, dental pain relief and burn treatment.

Today, mass-produced VR headsets may require no more than a smartphone and special headsets to operate, and an increasing number of people use these headsets to play video games and take realistic 3D tours of places they might not be. they can’t visit in real life.

The goal of using virtual reality as a pain management tool is to reduce the use of addictive opioid painkillers, the study team writes in PLoS ONE. However, there was no significant difference in opioid use between the VR group and the control group in the study.