The latest tool to help reduce the sounds of chronic pain as if it belonged to a video game group: Virtual Reality or Virtual Reality. It’s a computer-generated 3D environment that you can see with special glasses – and it’s gaining traction as a promising therapy.
In 2021, the FDA approved a prescription for a VR device for home use to help reduce chronic low back pain, and hospitals were looking into the effects of virtual reality on pain relief.
“In the past, opioids were used by a lot of providers as a way to treat chronic pain. As it turns out in recent years, opioids have many downsides, and providers are thirsty for alternative therapies. That’s why there’s a growing interest in this technology, and that’s why our study Her,” says Dr. David Bender, MD and director of innovation at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.
Virtual reality experience
VR is an immersive technology that makes you feel as if you are in another world. While seated comfortably, you wear a VR headset, which is a screen goggle that gives you a 360-degree view of a virtual environment. You can search anywhere in the virtual space – up, down, left, right, or behind you – and you can hear sounds from your headphone or headphone speakers.
In a video game, you might wear a VR headset to ride on a virtual roller coaster. You’ll see the path ahead, the park on the sides, and the sky above. You’ll be thrilled to see your car sprint forward, turn or turn – all while hearing the rumble of the car on the track and the shouts of other riders.
VR for chronic pain
Unlike exciting VR video games, pain-reducing virtual reality technology aims to calm you, often with serene nature settings, such as a grass field with a bright blue sky and a streaming stream nearby. You may hear sounds like birds chirping and water gently flowing along the rocks. And environments are not always created by the computer; Some of them are videos of real places.
VR devices to reduce chronic pain have other features as well, such as a narrator’s voice that directs the wearer to enjoy the virtual surroundings, perform breathing exercises, redirect negative thoughts about pain, or learn about pain responses.
In hospital settings, clinicians are there to help you understand and reinforce concepts in virtual reality therapy sessions.
How virtual reality can help treat chronic pain
Strategies used in virtual reality to reduce chronic pain can include mindfulness (focusing on the present moment), meditation, guided imagery or cognitive behavioral therapy (redirecting negative thoughts to positive thoughts) — all methods used to control stress and mood.
“Stress, anxiety, depression, and fear all contribute to pain,” Bender says. “A lot of evidence suggests that if you are able to treat those, you can help reduce the pain.”
Virtual reality and its many stimuli can also be distracting your brain from receiving pain signals.
“We really make use of these wires all the time. For example, if you accidentally hit your elbow, and it hurts, you rub the elbow and you feel better. You trick the brain into creating a sensory reaction when you touch the elbow, which cancels out some of the pain signals,” says Bender. .
Evidence of efficacy
The bulk of the evidence about VR for pain deals with the treatment of sudden, severe pain—for example, the use of VR to distract people undergoing burn treatments—or pain after surgery, during labor or cancer treatment.
Although there isn’t much evidence yet that being in a virtual reality environment reduces chronic pain, some studies are encouraging.
For example, the evidence that influenced the Food and Drug Administration in approving a virtual reality device for chronic low back pain (EaseVRx) was a randomized trial of 179 people. Half of them used a 3D virtual reality device, and the other half used a mock device (with only a 2D environment). After eight weeks of treatment, pain levels were reduced by more than half in 46% of the participants who used the VR device compared to 26% of the control group.
Availability of technology
VR back pain device requires a doctor’s order. It’s not covered by insurance, and Binder doesn’t expect any VR device for chronic pain to be covered until VR becomes mainstream.
However, a number of virtual reality devices with pain relief software (not FDA approved) are available for purchase either online or through private physical therapy practices.
Some hospitals and rehabilitation centers also use virtual reality technology for chronic pain.
And if you just want to give the technology a try, you can buy a VR device (starting at about $300) and download a meditation program for it.
He will not have the same education and guidance found in a program designed to reduce chronic pain, supervised by a physical therapist. But it probably won’t hurt – as long as you don’t have any conditions that would make using VR dangerous, such as dizziness or balance problems.
The future of pain management virtual reality
It’s too early to tell if virtual reality will ever become an essential part of chronic pain management.
The answer depends on what happens with the research, and how much value virtual reality adds to treating chronic pain.
“If VR content shows a significant improvement, pain scores decrease and recovery is faster, and if there is evidence from reputable academic centers, then the big tech companies will probably be interested. They are already investing heavily in VR,” Bender says. You see VR adoption on a level you never imagined.”