Virtual Reality Pain Management – Can It Alleviate Pain?

Virtual reality pain management may not be the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to chronic pain. Virtual reality is no longer just for gamers and other forms of entertainment. This type of pain management may seem odd, but completely effective according to test studies.

We’ve mentioned in previous articles how effective distractors can be when it comes to temporarily alleviate chronic pain. Virtual reality is one of those distractors. Virtual reality pain management is still working its way into the medical field. You may not find many VR sets at your local hospital or physician’s office because a headset and program can be quite pricey. A pain control game called Snow World cost $35,000 during a pain relief study. There are cheaper alternatives including Samsung’s Gear VR, HTC’s Vive and Oculus Rift. With these cheaper alternatives, you may begin to see more virtual reality sets in hospitals.

Virtual reality pain management doesn’t always include playing a video game. There are a number of virtual reality pain management applications specifically to distract patients from their pain. One application called COOL!, by DeepStream VR Inc., focuses on immersing pain patients into a soothing virtual reality world. In COOL!, patients can play with wildlife in a beautiful landscape.

One particular study used the Oculus Rift headset to run COOL! on 30 participants, male and female, ranging between 35-79 years of age. Participants had a variety of chronic pain disorders. Prior to their virtual reality pain management session, participants were asked to rate their pain between 0-10. Participants rated their pain as a 5.7. During the session, they rated their pain a 2.6. Post-session, they rated their pain a 4.1. The average change in pain rating between pre-session and post-session was 33 percent.

When asked to rate their engagement in the virtual world between 0-10, the average rating was 8.4. Participants were asked if they experienced any dizziness, headaches or nausea. No participants experienced dizziness or headaches, but one participant rated her nausea as a 3. She did note she had a long history of nausea with video games but mentioned COOL! was better than past video games that triggered her nausea.

We do have to note more studies need to be done on virtual reality pain management. This type of pain management may not be effective for everyone.