Virtual Reality Therapy for Pain
Virtual reality as a means of distraction, inducing positive emotions, or creating the perception of “swapping” a limb or bodily area affected by chronic pain can be a powerful therapeutic tool, according to a series of studies done in Belgium, the U.S., Korea, and Spain. Subsequent articles were published in print and online in June 2014 Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
A release from the publisher notes that Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, MBA, BCB, BCN the Virtual Reality Medical Institute, Brussels, Belgium and coauthors Kenneth Gao, Camelia Sulea, MD, and Mark Wiederhold, MD, PhD, FACP the Virtual Reality Medical Center, San Diego, CA created pleasant virtual experiences that patients could navigate through in simulated worlds to distract them from pain. The researchers wrote in their conclusion: “Overall, the results of this study show VR is effective at reducing pain. Within the subjective outcomes, patients reported significantly lower pain ratings while exploring the VE than during the pain focus session. Several patients reported encouraging feedback as well, such as ‘this is the first pain relief I have had in 3 years,’ ‘I was so busy playing the game, I forgot about my pain,’ and ‘even though the procedure was finished, I wanted to keep playing.’ This shows that this technology is significant not only in reducing pain but also in eliminating the interruptive nature of chronic pain. Moreover, objective measures further supported the reduction of pain with use of the VR system. Skin temperature was significantly higher and heart rate was lower during the VR session, which indicates greater relaxation.”
Bomyi Jeon from Chung-Ang University in Seoul, Korea and coauthors evaluated the effectiveness of virtual body swapping therapy in improving pain intensity and “body perception disturbance” in patients with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a chronic progressive disease characterized by severe pain and disturbed body perception. The team wrote: “The virtual body swapping training video for patients with CRPS was developed and has been found to successfully evoke virtual body swapping illusion in healthy participants.”
Rocio Herrero, PhD from Universitat Jaume I, Castelló de la Plana, Spain and colleagues report significant improvement in multiple factors affecting quality of life for patients with fibromyalgia syndrome, a chronic musculoskeletal pain condition. They wrote: “The VR environment was especially designed for chronic pain patients. Results showed significant increases in general mood state, positive emotions, motivation, and self-efficacy. These preliminary findings show the potential of VR as an adjunct to the psychological treatment of such an important health problem as chronic pain.”