Inducing positive emotions or creating the perception of “swapping” a limb or bodily area affected by chronic pain in a virtual environment can be a powerful therapeutic tool, according to new research.
Chronic pain due to disease or injury is common, and even prescription pain medications cannot provide acceptable pain relief for many individuals, researchers said.
Researchers from the Virtual Reality Medical Institute, Belgium and Virtual Reality Medical Centre, California, created pleasant virtual experiences that patients could navigate through in simulated worlds to distract them from pain.
They reported both the patients’ subjective ratings of relief and how those compared to physiological measurements to assess pain responses.
In a separate study, researchers from South Korea evaluated the effectiveness of virtual body swapping therapy in improving pain intensity and “body perception disturbance” in patients with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a chronic progressive disease characterised by severe pain and disturbed body perception.
In another study, researchers from Spain reported significant improvement in multiple factors affecting quality of life for patients with fibromyalgia syndrome, a chronic musculoskeletal pain condition.
“Studies have shown that VR can be an effective adjunct for both chronic and acute pain conditions,” said Brenda K Wiederhold, editor-in-chief of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking that published the studies.
“Future possibilities for VR’s use in pain conditions may include such diverse groups as military personnel, space exploration teams, and our ever increasing elderly population,” said Wiederhold.