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Best 6 Ways Patients Using Virtual Reality for Pain Management

July 8th, 2024

Category: virtual reality

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Posted by: Team TA

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An effective and safe pain management system is a major challenge in the healthcare sector. Pain is experienced by nearly half of hospitalized patients, with most of them experiencing severe pain. Traditionally, pain management is done pharmacologically using painkillers, including opioids, which are addictive. Even one day of opioid therapy can cause a six percent risk of dependency one year later, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hence, the need for drug-free, safe, and efficient pain management solutions is paramount today. Virtual reality for pain management has advanced significantly over the past 20 years. It is defined as simulations that utilize various combinations of interaction between devices and sensory display systems. VR technology has been adopted in several clinical domains including pain management, neurological and mental illnesses, and physical rehabilitation. Due to its non-invasive, drug-free, and user-friendly nature, VR has the potential to effectively manage a variety of pain-associated conditions.

How Hospitalized Patients Take Advantage of Virtual Reality for Pain Management?


1. VR Distraction Therapy

Virtual reality (VR) is used in healthcare to distract patients from pain during medical procedures by immersing them in an alternate reality. This helps reduce their awareness of their physical surroundings away from painful stimuli. These new VR gadgets, when combined with specially designed medical software, provide patients with an adaptable, immersive visual and audio experience that can be used in a variety of clinical situations.

The cognitive load on the brain cells also helps to alleviate the pain. The highly immersive nature of the virtual world demands heavy cognitive processing. Hence there are fewer resources to process pain signals as the brain focuses on the virtual environment. This reduces the perception of pain.

VR also offers enjoyable and customized content that can emotionally engage the patient. This can elevate the mood and reduce stress which in turn distract the patients to mitigate pain. A study in the Journal of Pain Research indicated that 90% of patients would recommend VR therapy to others and preferred it over traditional pain management techniques.

2. VR for Chronic Pain

Chronic pain, which persists for weeks, months, or even years, can be particularly challenging to treat due to its complex nature and the limited effectiveness of traditional pain management techniques. Virtual reality can be effectively used to calm the patient using serene environments like green pastures, chirping birds, and bubbling waters.

Other features included in virtual reality for pain management in chronic pain reduction include breathing exercises, learning about pain responses, walking in the virtual environment with a narrator leading them, and redirecting negative ideas about pain. 

VR is used to treat chronic pain with the following strategies: guided imagery, mindfulness (being in the moment), meditation, and cognitive behavioral therapy (thinking positively instead of negatively). They’re all applied to regulate mood and stress.

3. Virtual Physical Therapy

Virtual Physical Therapy (VPT) is an effective tool for managing pain in hospitalized patients. VPT provides interactive and engaging rehabilitation exercises that help alleviate pain and improve overall physical function. A study in Pain Medicine found that hospitalized patients who used VPT needed 30% less pain medication, showing that it can help manage pain without relying solely on drugs.

Virtual exercises or gamified activities can reduce pain perception by shifting focus. Regular exercise through VPT can strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and enhance joint function, which reduces pain, especially in conditions like arthritis or musculoskeletal disorders.

The real-time feedback system on VR devices helps patients adjust their movements and body positions to reduce pain caused by misalignment and repetitive strain injuries. It also helps them avoid activities or movements that can increase pain and correct their posture.

4. Preoperative Anxiety Reduction

Patients who have undergone head and neck surgery often experience significant pain after the operation. Managing this pain is important for improving recovery, shortening hospital stays, and enhancing quality of life. While pain medication is helpful, it can have side effects like nausea, drowsiness, and the potential for dependence.

VR app development solutions provide an immersive experience that captures the patient’s attention, distracting them from their anxiety and reducing their focus on the upcoming procedure. Patients can reframe negative thoughts and reduce anxiety through VR. A study on cardiac surgery patients found that VR-based relaxation programs significantly reduced preoperative anxiety and improved postoperative pain outcomes, as published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

5. Burn Pain Management

Burn pain is notoriously difficult to manage due to its intensity and the challenges associated with dressing changes and physical therapy. Multi-sensorial distractions like visual, auditory, and tactile are created by VR. Studies using functional MRI (fMRI) have shown that VR can decrease pain-related brain activity, providing a neurobiological basis for its effectiveness in pain relief.

VR can also evoke positive emotions and relaxation, helping to reduce the stress and anxiety associated with burn pain, which in turn can lower pain perception. According to a survey in the Journal of Burn Care & Research, 85% of patients reported high satisfaction with virtual reality for pain management, appreciating the immersive distraction and reduced pain experience.

6. Pediatric Pain Management

Children often experience significant anxiety and pain during medical procedures, which can be challenging to manage with traditional methods. A virtual reality experience can distract and comfort young patients during painful procedures. By creating a fun and engaging virtual world, VR can reduce pre-procedural anxiety, which in turn can lower pain perception during and after the procedure.

VR can create a sense of presence in a comforting environment, helping children to feel safe and relaxed during medical treatments. VR has been successfully used in various pediatric procedures, including blood draws, wound care, dental treatments, and more, as documented in a review in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care.

Wrapping Up

VR can significantly reduce pain perception, lower anxiety levels, and improve the overall experience for hospitalized patients undergoing medical procedures. Virtual reality has been proven to be effective in managing different types of pain, including acute pain during medical procedures and surgery, as well as chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, phantom limb syndrome, chronic lower back and neck pain, and pain related to cancer.

As a reputed VR development services company, we have the expertise and experience to build and support robust virtual reality for pain management.

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