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Virtual Reality for Pain Relief: How Can VR Assist You in Relieving Chronic Pain | Health and Technology

Virtual Reality for Pain Relief: How Can VR Assist You in Relieving Chronic Pain | Health and Technology
Virtual Reality for Pain Relief: How Can VR Assist You in Relieving Chronic Pain

Virtual Reality for Pain Relief: How Virtual Reality Can Help You Relieve Chronic Pain

The latest tool to help reduce chronic pain sounds like it belongs in a collection of video games: virtual reality, or VR. It's a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment that can be viewed with special glasses, and it's gaining traction as a promising therapy. 

In 2021, the FDA approved a prescription home-use virtual reality device to help reduce chronic low back pain, and hospitals have been researching the effects of virtual reality on pain relief.

“In the past, many providers used opioids as a way to treat chronic pain. As has become clear in recent years, opioids have many downsides and providers are thirsty for alternative treatments. That's why there's a growing interest in this technology and that's why we're looking at it,” says Dr. David Binder, a physiatrist and chief innovation officer at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.

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Virtual Reality Experience

Virtual Reality is an immersive technology that makes you feel like you are in another world. While sitting comfortably, you put on a VR headset, which are display glasses that give you a 360-degree view of a virtual environment. You can look anywhere in the virtual space (up, down, left, right, or behind), and you can listen to the sounds from the speakers in your headphones or earphones.

In a video game, you can put on a VR headset to ride a virtual roller coaster. You will see the track in front of you, the amusement park on the sides and the sky above. You'll experience the thrill of seeing your car rocket forward, spin or spin, all while listening to the car rattle down the track and the screams of other riders.

VR for Chronic Pain

Unlike exciting VR video games, pain-reducing VR aims to soothe you, often with serene natural settings, such as a grassy field with a bright blue sky and a rippling stream nearby. You may hear sounds like birdsong and water gently bubbling along rocks. And environments aren't always computer generated; some are videos of real places.

Virtual Reality devices for chronic pain reduction also incorporate other functions, such as the voice of a narrator that guides the user to assimilate the virtual environment, do breathing exercises, redirect negative thoughts about pain or learn about responses to pain. pain.

In hospital settings, doctors are there to help you understand and reinforce concepts in virtual reality treatment sessions.

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How Virtual Reality could help Chronic Pain

Strategies used in Virtual Reality for chronic pain reduction may include mindfulness (focusing on the present moment), meditation, guided imagery, or cognitive behavioral therapy (redirecting negative thoughts to positive ones), all methods used to control stress and mood.

“Stress, anxiety, depression, and fear all contribute to pain,” says Binder. "A lot of evidence suggests that if you can treat them, you can help reduce pain." 

It could also be that VR and its many stimuli are simply distracting your brain from receiving pain signals.

“We already take advantage of this wiring all the time. For example, if you bump your elbow by accident and it hurts, you rub your elbow and it feels better. You're tricking the brain into producing the sensory reaction of touching the elbow, which cancels out some pain signals,” says Binder.

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Evidence of Effectiveness

Most of the evidence on virtual reality for pain relates to the treatment of sudden, severe pain, for example the use of virtual reality to distract people undergoing burn treatment, or pain afterward. surgery, or during labor or cancer treatment. 

While 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 convinced the FDA to approve the VR device for chronic low back pain (EaseVRx) was a randomized trial involving 179 people. Half used the 3D virtual reality device and half used a fake 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 virtual reality device compared to 26% of the other group.

Technology Availability

The virtual reality device for back pain requires a doctor's order. It's not covered by insurance, and Binder doesn't anticipate that any VR devices for chronic pain will be covered until VR goes mainstream.

However, there are a number of virtual reality devices with pain relief programs (not FDA approved) available for purchase online or through private physical therapy practices. 

Some hospitals and rehabilitation centers also use virtual reality for chronic pain.

And if you just want to try out the technology, you can buy a virtual reality headset (starting at around $300) and download a meditation program for it.

He will not have the same education and guidance found in a program designed for chronic pain reduction, supervised by a physical therapist. But it probably won't hurt, as long as you don't have any conditions that make using VR dangerous, like dizziness or balance problems.

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Future of VR Pain Management 

It's too early to tell if virtual reality will become a standard part of chronic pain treatment.

The answer depends on what happens with the research and how much value virtual reality adds to the treatment of chronic pain.

“If VR content shows clear improvement, lower pain scores, and faster recovery, and if there is evidence from respected academic centers, big tech companies are likely to be interested. They are already investing heavily in virtual reality,” says Binder. “You may see virtual reality being embraced to a level never imagined.”

Source: Channel 3000, Direct News 99