The Powers of Distraction – Virtual Reality and Chronic Pain

Dear Pain Matters blog readers,

Being a mom of a teenage boy, I know all about the ‘Powers of Distraction’ of a video game!

Awareness of time and space can completely vanish and your mind can literally be taken away ‘to another world far, far away’ during an immersive 3-dimensional (3-D) virtual reality (VR) experience.

Studies:

Dr Jones and his colleagues collaborated with DeepStreamVR to test a new VR program called “Cool!” (used with VR display goggles) that was specifically designed for chronic pain patients.  The “Cool!” program incorporates biofeedback components that promote mindfulness and resilience training.  Built-in biosensors facilitate a ‘flow state’ to control the intensity of the 3-D VR experience that in turn may maximise pain relief.

Two (2) studies were performed:

  1. The first study included 10 men and 20 women with chronic nonmalignant pain (median age = 50).  All were offered only one 5-minute VR treatment session.  Of these 30 patients, 9 had 100% pain relief (30%).  Average pain scores decreased by 33% ‘after the VR session‘, compared to ‘before‘, while average pain scores decreased by 60% ‘during the VR session‘, compared to ‘before‘.
  2. The second study is still ongoing, and includes 7 patients with chronic nonmalignant neuropathic pain (median age = 50).  All 7 patients are offered three (3) 20-minute VR treatments.  Average pain scores decreased by 57% ‘after the first VR session‘, compared to ‘before‘, while average pain scores decreased by 75% ‘during the first VR session‘, compared to ‘before‘.

There were no side effects, and none of the patients experienced headache, nausea or dizziness during either of these 2 studies.  NB An older VR-based pain study noted a significant risk of ‘cyber-sickness’ during VR-based treatment.

Significantly, most of the patients experienced reduced pain that lasted anywhere from 2 to 48 hours, post-VR treatment.

Quoting Dr Jones:

“One of our most exciting early results is that the analgesia from virtual reality lasts after the session is over, sometimes days afterwards.  About 10% of subjects said it did not help, while 30% said it gave them complete pain relief while doing virtual reality.

“My initial impression is that the analgesia seems to be more pronounced, not surprisingly, in subjects who ‘get into the game’ more.  So regardless of gender, age or amount of depression, if someone allows themselves to be involved in the VR experience, it has pronounced analgesia.

Unknown.jpeg

Dr Jones showing the “Cool!” VR program to a patient.

Source:   DeepStreamVR

An earlier study showed that patients with:

  • Fibromyalgia;
  • Dental pain; and
  • Combat-related burn injuries

may obtain pain relief from VR pain treatment (Wiederhold et al, 2014).

Summary:

More patients may benefit from VR-pain-based programs once they gain affordable and ongoing access via their smartphones to programs similar to the “Cool!” program.  Ongoing research is warranted.

Sabina Walker

“Sedare dolorem divinum opus est”
“It is divine to alleviate pain”

Galen, 130-200 C.E.

REFERENCES

Media:

(1) Virtual Reality Ventures Into Real World of Chronic Pain

Nancy A Melville

Medscape Medical News (27 May 2016)

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/863926#vp_2

(2) DeepStreamVR (Provider of the “Cool!” pain program)

http://www.deepstreamvr.com

Peer-Reviewed Papers:

(3) Wiederhold BK, Gao K, Sulea C, Wiederhold MD.

Virtual Reality as a Distraction Technique in Chronic Pain Patients.

Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking (2014); 17(6):346-352.

doi:10.1089/cyber.2014.0207.

(4) Garrett B, Taverner T, Masinde W, Gromala D, Shaw C, Negraeff M.

A Rapid Evidence Assessment of Immersive Virtual Reality as an Adjunct Therapy in Acute Pain Management in Clinical Practice.

Clinical Journal of Pain (Dec 2014); 30(12):1089–1098.

doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000064

 

 

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