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.
Chronic pain and suicidal thoughts are more common than many realize. Chronic pain sufferers describe a sense of feeling completely hopeless due to agonizing pain. Individuals with chronic pain often can’t perform daily routines. Shifting to a limited lifestyle due to pain can cause depression and suicidal thoughts.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, also known as RSD, is a debilitating nerve disorder affecting millions of people in the United States. Neuro-autoimmune disease is also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). RSD/CRPS is often referred to as the “suicide disease” due to the high percentage of deaths associated with its symptoms. RSD is a progressive neurological condition that can disturb all extremities of the body. It starts in one area but is likely to travel throughout the body during its progression.
RSD/CRPS causes so much pain that patients are at a higher risk of taking their life. RSD/CRPS remains grossly undertreated in most patients. There is a lack of knowledge among both health professionals and consumers and many patients have a fear of becoming addicted to opioid treatments. This causes many to go undiagnosed or not get the proper treatment needed.
Depression, Chronic Pain, and Suicidal Thoughts
Researchers found that a group of neurons responsible for negative emotions became heightened within days after an injury. This triggered a drop in dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Depression can make chronic pain worse and vice versa. The pain can become so severe that people may believe suicide is the only way it can stop.
Signs of Suicidal Thoughts
- Increased alcohol, smoking or drug consumption
- Openly threatening suicide
- Experiencing mental or emotional problems
- Lack of sleep
- Explosive mood swings or anger
- Extremely depressive mood
- Feeling hopeless
- Increased risky behaviors
- Unexpectedly getting affairs in order
- Changes in personality
- Severe anxiety and agitation
The Do’s to Help People with Chronic Pain and Suicidal Thoughts
- Take them seriously. Suicidal thoughts are a cry for help. Take it as such.
- Let them know you care about them and would be devastated to lose them.
- Allow them to vent and listen to their pain.
- Be patient with them.
- Communicate with them frequently to check-in.
- Assist them in finding an expert for treating their chronic pain.
- Assist with finding a mental health expert.
- Support them during the treatment.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
The Don’ts for Helping People with Chronic Pain and Suicidal Thoughts
- Don’t leave them alone. Detoxify the area of the means if possible.
- Don’t argue with them.
- Don’t dismiss their suicidal thoughts as a joke.
- Don’t criticize them.
- Don’t talk about negative news or death while in their presence.
- Don’t ignore them.
- Don’t gossip about their situation.
Treatment for RSD/CRPS
- Topical Pain Relievers and Topical Analgesics
- Antidepressants and Anticonvulsants
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- Sympathetic nerve-blocking medications
- Intravenous Ketamine
- Physical Therapy
- Biofeedback Therapy and Spinal Cord Stimulation Therapy
If you have suicidal thoughts, please do not suffer in silence. Seek help from a close friend, relative or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You are not alone in this fight.