Video games or pain killers? The two seem unrelated however, they may both be an option for pain management treatment in the near future. The conversation revolving around virtual reality and pain management questions whether VR has any analgesic effect when applied to patients undergoing painful experiences.
Virtual Reality and Pain Management Treatment
Recent studies suggest that VR may be an effective way to reduce or possibly eliminate pain sensations experienced by the body. Such procedures as dental operations, cancer treatments, and changing burn dressings are just a small sampling of the possible opportunities to use this exciting new technology. But the big question remains, does it really work?
According to a recent study published by National Center for Biotechnology, virtual reality helps lower the perception of pain by distracting patients from the painful experience. “VR [could] act as a nonpharmacologic form of analgesia by exerting an array of emotional-affective, emotion-based cognitive and attentional processes on the body’s intricate pain modulation system.” The way it works is this, the VR game inundates the brain with a variety of lights, sounds, and movements causing a sensory overload. As the patient is focusing on these elements, he or she has less cognitive capacity to focus on the painful experience such as a needle entering the skin, chemotherapy being administered, or a setting a broken bone.
How it Works
Part of the possible effectiveness of VR is that the brain is unable to concentrate solely on the pain at hand. “Human beings have a limited capacity for attention and an individual must attend to a painful stimulus in order for it to be perceived as painful. Therefore, if the individual is attending to another stimulus away from the noxious stimulus, they will perceive the painful stimulus as less intense”. We see this demonstrated is small ways when pediatricians make funny faces at their small patients receiving shots or drawing blood.
While this rudimentary technique may work for children – on occasion – the opportunity for VR to enter the doctor’s office not only benefits the parents but patients of all ages looking for pain management treatment.
In the NCBI Study, investigators report positive results from VR and range of motion for physical therapy patients. Sixty-seven persons between twenty-two and sixty-five complaining of chronic neck pain showed improvement in their range of motion and a decrease in neck pain after a VR session.
Similarly, the same study reported that 82% of children engaged in VR while receiving cancer treatments said their treatment with VR was better than their previous treatments without VR. What’s more, each child requested the use of VR again for future treatments.
Even though these trials are not as comprehensive as the medical community would like, the results of these few tests are significant to the pain management field. As we discover more about VR, we can gain into the perception and reception of pain. This means patients can receive the care they need without the anxiety attributed to the painful treatment. As a result, we can give better care and possibly, more care when the patient isn’t afraid of the pain management treatment.
We can only hope that research continues on this topic. The far-reaching benefit of VR as an option for pain management treatment is increasingly exciting, especially for those with low pain tolerance, or those unable to avoid pain-filled procedures. At Arrowhead Health Centers we are always looking for ways to make our patients comfortable and live a life without pain. We will continue to watch this field develop and hopefully add VR as a possible treatment to our patient’s pain management plans.
In the meantime, don’t live with chronic pain. We have a solution that will work for you. Our team of highly trained, highly attentive doctors cares for everything from acute pain and injury to chronic pain, to pain due to nerve injury, to progressive, chronic pain which requires ongoing care that focuses on controlling physical symptoms and focused care on improving your quality of life. We want you to have a full and pain-free future. Visit us online today to see what our patients are saying about us and stay tuned in for more on pain management.