Researchers say it’s unknown exactly how VR works to reduce pain levels, but one explanation is simple distraction.
“When the mind is deeply engaged in an immersive experience, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to perceive stimuli outside of the field of attention. By ‘hijacking’ the auditory, visual, and proprioception senses, VR is thought to create an immersive distraction that restricts the mind from processing pain,” said Spiegel.
Because the VR therapy was only 15 minutes long, Spiegel says lengthening the period of pain reduction might require sustained and repeated exposure to a variety of virtual reality content.
Another small study of VR therapy, published in PLOS, found that just five minutes of exposure to a virtual reality application reduced chronic pain by an average of 33 percent.
VR therapy is not for everyone. It may induce dizziness, vomiting, nausea or epileptic seizures, so patients have to be screened and monitored for side effects. Another barrier is age related. Two-thirds of the people who were eligible for the Cedars-Sinai study were unwilling to try VR therapy, particularly older individuals.
A larger study is underway at the hospital to measure the impact of VR therapy on the use of pain medications, length of hospital stay and post-discharge satisfaction scores.
The Pain RelieVR game was created by AppliedVR , a Los Angeles based company that is developing a variety of virtual reality content to help treat pain, depression and anxiety. Below is a promotional video released by the company.