In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Virtual Reality’s Breakthrough: A New Frontier in Chronic Pain Relief

Virtual reality is a growing technology field that is capturing the interest of those looking for entertainment, as well as those who research healthcare issues. Some studies are putting virtual reality to the test to see if it will help with chronic pain relief and management, among other things. So far, the information that is coming out about using this type of technology to help with chronic pain is promising.

A study published in the October 2023 issue of the journal Pain, reports the findings of a study done using virtual reality to see what the effects are on psychosocial measures of pain [1]. The study they did included 28 people who suffered from chronic pain and a control group of 31 pain-free people. They conducted a direct comparison to see if the virtual reality experience led to a decline in pain, which it did.

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The participants who experienced virtual reality in the study were exposed to a 3D nature scene that was visible in all directions, and they turned their heads. When people look at the nature scene or virtual reality, the brain concludes that it is the environment that the person is in.

The virtual manipulation of the environment interacts with the perception that the brain has of the self and the body, which leads to a decrease in anxiety and pain.

They compared the effect that virtual reality had on mental imagery, and the virtual reality came out ahead. They concluded that virtual reality modulates pain perception. This growing computer-generated world of technology brings hope to those who suffer from chronic pain. It adds more tools that people can turn to to find relief.

In another study published the same month in the journal JMIR Publications [2], researchers tested virtual reality meditation to see if it would help people who have rheumatoid arthritis, for which chronic pain is a symptom. While the study set out to see if the virtual reality meditation helps with fatigue in individuals who have rheumatoid arthritis, they found that participants had a decrease in pain behavior, as well as in fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

There are numerous studies currently being conducted and that have recently been shared regarding the emerging potential benefits of using virtual reality in pain management. Plus, the benefits appear to reach beyond pain and help ease anxiety, stress, fatigue, and more. We can watch as more virtual reality options emerge to help people with chronic pain management and much more.

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1. Pain.Effects of virtual reality on psychosocial measures of pain. October 2023. 
2. JMIR Publications. Virtual Reality Meditation for Fatigue in Persons With Rheumatoid Arthritis. October 2023. 

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

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