In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Considering Virtual Reality as a Chronic Pain Tool


We are learning more about virtual reality (VR) in various areas of our lives, and now it’s being considered for help with addressing pain. Those who suffer from chronic pain need all the tools they can get to try and find relief. The more tools they can turn to, the more likely they will find something that helps with the situation.

In the April 2022 issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, researchers shared their findings from a study using virtual reality (VR) to help with pain prevention [1]. They used VR headsets on people having a bone marrow biopsy, a notoriously painful procedure.

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The study included 126 people who had a bone marrow biopsy. The participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The groups were those who had the biopsy with the use of VR, and the other group had it done using the traditional method, which uses a pain prevention mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen. All participants were given local anesthesia prior to the biopsy.

Participants were evaluated immediately after the biopsy, as well as a month after the procedure was done. The patients were all evaluated for feedback regarding pain intensity and anxiety. They found that the pain intensity wasn’t much different between the two groups, but there was still an advantage to using the VR. They found that the use of VR was well tolerated and that everyone was very satisfied, including the patients, nurses, and doctors.

Anyone who has had procedures done knows that it’s easy to experience anxiety as they watch it be performed. The beauty of VR is that it eliminates that for the most part. Those who have the head-mounted displays on are being distracted by imagery. While VR is a newer concept in the world of addressing and preventing pain, it’s one that is emerging as a possible tool that can be used. Increasingly, companies are bringing technology to the forefront to help address some of the issues we as a society face.

There was research published in the January 2012 issue of the journal Pain Management that predicted the future of using VR for pain management [2]. They predicted that VR would have a significant impact on areas of acute and chronic pain management within the coming 5-10 years. The field is getting more attention, and there’s a good chance that the best is still to come with VR and pain prevention.

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  1. Journal of Medical Internet Research. A New Option for Pain Prevention Using a Therapeutic Virtual Reality Solution for Bone Marrow Biopsy. April 2022.
  2. Pain Management. Virtual reality and pain management: current trends and future directions. March 2011.

This article was originally published on Confronting Chronic Pain by Dr. Steven Richeimer, Director Pain Medicine Master and Certificate.

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