- New research shows that virtual reality technology can be an effective treatment for pain.
- Mental focus on something positive using virtual reality can change pain perception for the better
- The virtual reality for pain relief can have some side effects, but is much less serious than that of pain relievers
Research on VR and pain relief
If you end up in the hospital because of a health problem, one thing is almost certain: you will have a certain amount of pain. And we know that opioids and many other pain relief drugs are addictive and have a number of serious side effects. But there is some very encouraging news in the area of pain therapy. New research suggests that virtual reality devices (VR), which you are likely to associate with video games or science fiction films, could offer significant pain relief.
The study, conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, found that VR technology can be an effective treatment for pain from a variety of sources, including cancer and orthopedic problems. These results are based on an investigation involving 120 men and women who were hospitalized and in pain. They were randomly divided into two groups, with the first group selecting 21 different VR programs and the second group watching health-related videos on TV.
All subjects rated their pain from zero to ten, with zero indicating no pain at all and 10 extreme pain. Participants assigned to the VR who were recommended for three daily 10-minute sessions plus additional pain reported an average pain score that was reduced by two points. In contrast, those who watched TV reported an average decrease in pain values of just half a point. In addition, VR therapy was associated with three values three points lower in the patients with the greatest pain, while television was only associated with a drop of almost one point.
How could virtual reality affect our perception of pain?
VR technology is designed to be an impressive experience and to take your mind to another place. It is on a completely different level of engagement than television, which requires little focus and allows your mind to hike. VR is more closely aligned with pain management techniques such as cognitive behavior therapy, where you change your thoughts about pain, learn coping strategies, and meditate mindfully. As previously mentioned, studies have shown that mindful meditation provides long-lasting, drug-free pain relief.
All of this is largely in line with what Jon Barron has been saying for years: positive thinking is critical to health, and negative thinking causes physical harm. When we are in the hospital, we can spend time thinking about the pain and becoming depressed, or we can focus our attention on something that distracts us from the pain and takes us mentally to a more comfortable place.
The disadvantage of VR pain therapy
The use of VR technology as a form of pain therapy may be a step in the right direction, but it is not a perfect form of treatment. In current research, the pain needle has been moved down a maximum of three points – an enormous improvement, but still far from relieving all pain. And of course, VR devices for pain treatment are not exactly widespread in hospitals at the moment. On the other hand, they are now easily available for use with programs on your smartphone.
Another potential problem is that the use of VR technology can lead to cyber diseases in some people. Similar to motion sickness, cybersickness generally causes symptoms such as headache, dizziness, and nausea when wearing a VR headset. It usually resolves itself after the VR application is discontinued, but it can make this form of pain treatment unprofitable for certain people. Even so, this side effect is still significantly better than that which often occurs when using pain relievers, which include addiction, sleepiness, confusion, vomiting and constipation.