Menu
Relievrx overview

Effectiveness of VR use in Pain Management

Zornitsa Vuteva 1 month ago 0 7

For individuals living with chronic pain, the constant discomfort and distress can be debilitating and affect daily life. Traditional pain management methods, such as medication and physical therapy, can be effective but often have limitations.

In recent years, researchers and healthcare professionals have turned to VR as a potential solution to help patients cope with and manage their pain. By immersing individuals in a fully immersive, interactive environment, VR has the potential to distract from pain, reduce anxiety, and even alter the brain’s perception of pain. In this article, we will explore the current state of VR in pain management, its benefits, and the potential for it to revolutionize the way we approach pain treatment.

Applications of VR in Pain Management

The applications of VR in pain management are diverse and promising, offering effective non-pharmacological pain relief and improved patient outcomes. These are the key use cases of VR in the realm of pain management:

Acute Pain Management

VR has been utilized to manage pain associated with medical procedures like burn wound care, phlebotomy, and intravenous catheter placement. Studies consistently show that VR reduces pain perception, anxiety, and unpleasantness during these procedures. The technology is particularly effective in distracting patients and altering their pain perception.

Chronic Pain Management

VR can serve as an analgesic intervention and distraction method for chronic pain management. It can also address pain-related behaviors and be combined with other evidence-based interventions such as hypnosis and biofeedback. VR has proven effective in reducing pain intensity and enhancing functioning in chronic pain patients.

Psychiatric and Rehabilitation Applications

VR has been employed in treating various psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse. Additionally, it can aid in physical rehabilitation, such as for patients with burn injuries, to boost recovery and alleviate pain.

Future Directions

As VR technology continues to advance, it is poised to significantly impact pain management in the next 5-10 years. The integration of VR into healthcare settings is expected to become more prevalent, especially as costs associated with VR technology decrease and its flexibility and customizability increase. VR may find applications in various medical settings, including routine painful medical procedures, physical therapy, pain rehabilitation, and chronic pain management.

Examples of VR tools for pain management

Here are the most well-developed and successfully used VR apps for pain management:

RelieVRx

RelieVRx (formerly known as EaseVRx) is a prescription-use immersive VR system designed to alleviate chronic lower back pain.

RelieVRx received its FDA authorization for marketing in November 2021 and its designation as a Breakthrough Device. The FDA assessed the safety and efficacy of RelieVRx through a randomized, double-blinded clinical study involving 179 participants with chronic lower back pain. Participants were divided into two groups: one using the RelieVRx immersive 3D program and the other using a control 2D program without CBT methods. The study revealed that 66% of RelieVRx users reported a more than 30% reduction in pain, compared to 41% in the control group.

This system is part of an 8-week treatment plan and comprises a VR headset, controller, and a ‘breathing amplifier’ that guides the patient’s breath to the headset’s microphone. The VR program consists of 56 sessions, each lasting 2-16 minutes, integrating CBT and other behavioral therapy techniques to equip users with skills for pain relief. Throughout the eight weeks of treatment, RelieVRx participants experienced a notable decrease in pain intensity, with an average reduction of 1.31 points. They also reported diminished pain interference in various aspects like activity, mood, sleep, and stress.

RelieVRx targets adults aged 18 and above diagnosed with chronic lower back pain, characterized by moderate to severe pain persisting over three months. Individuals with conditions such as seizure disorders, dementia, or migraines were excluded from the study due to potential risks associated with VR technology. A comparison with a control VR headset displaying nature scenes revealed that RelieVRx was more effective in reducing pain intensity and interference with daily activities, mood, and sleep. Furthermore, users of RelieVRx reported a decreased reliance on over-the-counter pain medications.

SnowWorld

SnowWorld is a VR environment created to alleviate pain in patients undergoing wound care procedures, especially those with severe burns. It was developed at the University of Washington’s HITLab in collaboration with the Harborview Burn Center, marking the first immersive virtual world tailored for pain management.

SnowWorld overview pain treatment

SnowWorld offers high immersion, enabling patients to immerse themselves in a 3D icy canyon where they can throw snowballs at virtual objects like snowmen, igloos, robots, and penguins. This immersive experience serves to divert patients from their pain, reducing their conscious focus on the wound care procedure. Studies consistently demonstrate SnowWorld’s effectiveness in pain reduction during wound care procedures. In a clinical case series involving 13 burn patients, individuals reported decreased levels of pain and anxiety while using SnowWorld in comparison to traditional methods.

Research employing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans has revealed significant decreases in pain-related brain activity when using SnowWorld. This indicates that the brain is effectively being deceived into disregarding pain signals as the patient’s attention is directed towards the virtual environment. SnowWorld is commonly utilized alongside standard analgesia, such as opioids, to enhance pain alleviation. While opioids alone may not suffice for managing severe pain during wound care, the combination of VR and opioids can result in notable pain relief.

Patients have shared positive feedback on SnowWorld, describing it as ‘white noise’ that aids them in concentrating on the virtual environment rather than their pain. This distraction can lead to enhanced procedural cooperation and reduced anxiety.

Benefits of VR use in pain management

Studies have found that VR helps decrease pain intensity and unpleasantness while increasing patient satisfaction and cooperation during procedures such as wound care, burn treatment, and intravenous catheter placement. VR serves as a non-pharmacological analgesic by distracting patients and redirecting their attention away from the painful stimulus.

In chronic pain management, VR offers an immersive distraction that can shift the patient’s focus away from pain. Immersive virtual environments enable patients to explore relaxing settings like beaches or forests, creating a sense of presence and engagement that can reduce stress and aid in physical therapy. Initial studies indicate that VR may accelerate pain rehabilitation, enhance range of motion, and prolong the effects of treatment.

VR proves to be advantageous for specific patient groups, like children, by providing a means to avoid addictive pain medications. The technology is increasingly becoming more widespread, user-friendly, and cost-effective, facilitating greater adoption in clinical settings.

As VR technology continues to advance, it has the potential to reduce the necessity for narcotics and the frequency of treatment sessions required for pain management.

Practical challenges of VR integration in pain management

The highlighted challenges underscore the necessity for further research and development to overcome practical hurdles and ensure the effective integration of VR in pain management.

  • VR needs to be integrated with existing treatment approaches for chronic pain, which can be challenging, particularly considering the need for multidisciplinary approaches.
  • The cost and accessibility of VR technology, including headsets and other necessary devices, can pose a significant barrier to its widespread adoption in pain management.
  • Healthcare providers require training and support to effectively use VR in pain management, which can be challenging, especially in settings where resources are limited.
  • Patient acceptance and comfort with using VR technology, especially in clinical settings, can be challenging and may require additional research to address.

Conclusion

As researchers and healthcare professionals explore the full potential of VR in pain management, it’s evident that this technology can have a lasting impact on those dealing with chronic pain. By integrating VR with established pain management techniques, we can develop more effective and personalized treatment plans tailored to each person’s unique needs. Moving ahead into this new frontier, it’s crucial to prioritize continued research and development to ensure safe and effective use of VR in pain management. Through these efforts, we can fully harness the potential of this technology and offer new hope to individuals battling chronic pain.

Written By

Meet Zornitsa, our Content Manager, specializing in all things VR headsets and innovative VR use cases. With a passion for exploring the latest in virtual reality technology, Zornitsa is your trusted source for expert insights and informative content that will elevate your VR experience.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *