Why Virtual Reality is the Next Frontier in Pain Relief

(This article was originally published in the Mail Online on Sept. 15, 2017)
  • New research shows virtual reality has various benefits to treat pain
  • Aside from distraction, it could also reprogram how we respond to pain
  • This is down to guided imagery to treat mental health, experts say 

Virtual reality games might help ease pain not just by distracting players from what ails them, but also by triggering changes in the brain, a recent research review suggests.

Distraction may indeed play a role in pain relief, the review of six small studies suggests.

But it's also possible that the technology could help produce changes in the nervous system when it's used to help reprogram how a person responds to pain.

'Guided imagery has long been a treatment for psychological disorders, and virtual reality is a more immersive way to provide guided imagery,' said lead study author Dr. Anita Gupta of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey.

Research suggests that virtual reality treatments for chronic pain might help reduce reliance on opioid painkillers and potentially help curb misuse of these addictive medications

More research is needed to tell if virtual reality is truly effective, but having more options to treat pain is promising,' Gupta said.

Virtual reality technology has been around for decades, first coming to prominence when the military used it for flight simulators.

The earliest hardware filled an entire room, but as the technology has become smaller and cheaper to produce, it's increasingly being used for a variety of medical purposes including wound care, physical therapy, dental pain relief and burn treatment.

Today, mass-produced virtual reality devices may require no more than a smartphone and special headsets to operate, and a growing number of people use these gadgets to play video games and take lifelike, three-dimensional tours of places they might not be able to visit in real life.

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