Not just for video games
August 19, 2019

Virtual reality could be the drug-free pain medicine of the future.

A study published this month in the journal PLOS ONE looked at the effectiveness of VR intervention on hospital patients experiencing pain, and found that the technology had "benefits across conditions."

Tom Norris, a 70-year-old Los Angeles resident with chronic pain throughout his body, told NPR that when he uses his VR headset, he gets a "strong feeling of pleasure, relaxation and peace." His attention is diverted, making his pain manageable.

The study analyzed 61 patients in a VR group, who were given a library of 21 different VR experiences, ranging from a guided relaxation to playing basketball to an animated Rube Goldberg machine. The 59-person control group watched television programming centered on health and wellness. Results showed that 65 percent of the VR patients had a clinically significant pain response, compared to 40 percent of the control group.

VR is being analyzed for more targeted types of pain as well: A hospital in Wales is testing the effects on reducing labor pain, reports BBC.

The study in PLOS ONE received some funding from a VR software company, but they played no role in the study, lead author Brennan Spiegel told NPR.

The authors of the study noted that they aren't sure how VR reduces pain, but distraction is a possibility: "By overwhelming the visual, auditory, and proprioception senses, VR is thought to create an immersive distraction that restricts the brain from processing pain." Read more at NPR. Taylor Watson

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