Vision of the pain barrier: VR and pain reduction

Researcher at the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany, equipped with VR headsets and motion controllers. – Photo: ESA, via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

The pain associated with many injuries, such as burns, is considerable. In addition to the actual physical damage, the pain occurs with changes in clothing. This manifests itself as actual pain and anxiety tied up in anticipation of the change of attire.

Measures to reduce pain include potent medications, such as opioids, that can produce serious adverse side effects. This has led researchers to consider alternative measures to address pain. One of these areas includes virtual reality.

It is argued that virtual reality can significantly decrease people’s pain signals, especially in those who experience more intense pain.

The study of a recent research focuses on virtual reality games based on smartphones, which can be played during dress changes. The study examined children in a pediatric ward for people with burn injuries. The study was led by the Center for Pediatric Trauma Research.

The initial study was a randomized clinical trial with 90 children (6–17 years). The children were assigned to one of three treatment groups called: active virtual reality, passive virtual reality, and standard care (no virtual reality).

The virtual reality game used was called “Virtual River Cruise,” and was produced especially for the project. The background of the game was a refreshing environment and to play it required a high level of cognitive processing.

Children assigned to play received a smartphone and headphones. Game time was 5 to 6 minutes (the typical time for a change of clothes). The active virtual reality group was asked to actively participate in the game. Those assigned to the passive virtual reality group simply watched the game.

Both caregivers and children were asked to indicate perceived pain levels and data from all three groups were reviewed.

The findings showed that those in the active virtual reality group recorded the lowest overall pain scores. This suggests that gambling has the potential to be clinically useful in an outpatient setting.

Moving forward, in the United States, the Ohio Department of Public Safety aims to evaluate the viability and effectiveness of virtual reality games to reduce changes in pain treatment.

The research has been published in the journal JAMA network open, with the study entitled “Effectiveness of active and passive virtual reality distraction from smartphones versus standard care in burn pain in pediatric patients.”

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