Can Virtual Reality Help Ease Chronic Pain? We Want to Hear From You!

Celeste Cooper, RN Health Pro
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    I am one of those hypersensitive people who feel the passage of energy during Tai Chi. I also can hear noise frequencies most others cannot. So learning more about virtual reality (VR) for treating chronic pain was a no-brainer for me. 

     

    If you are a gamer, you probably have a particular virtual environment that appeals to you. If you live with chronic pain and happen to be a gamer, or you have been part of a health care virtual reality experience, we want to hear from you. (See below.) Read on as I share what I learned about VR.

     

    What is VR?


    VR is technology that allows us to experience unreal things in an unreal environment as though it were real, i.e., occurring to us, in our world or an imagined world we inhabit. Our sensory processing allows us to change our perception in a virtual world.

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    What are the researchers saying?


    I was amazed to see a list of more than 270 articles appear when I searched PubMed with the keywords "virtual reality, pain."  Because of neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to reorganize) and centralization of pain, I see a potential for future applications that not only help us cope with chronic pain, but treat it, too.

     

    Virtual reality may not work for everyone, nor will everyone have a tolerance for the various VR environments. (Those with a history of motion sickness might have trouble with VR, for example.) But the future looks bright for many of us.

     

    Technology and health care


    Scientists and health care providers are rethinking the paradigm of neuroscience. They are embracing technology that could deploy neuroplasticity and alter the way we perceive pain.

     

    Ted Jones, Ph.D., and his colleagues worked with DeepStreamVR, the creators of a VR computer application called "Cool," to see if it would help patients.

     

    Jones told Medscape News, "One of our most exciting early results is that the analgesia from virtual reality lasts after the session is over, sometimes days afterwards.” These findings were published April 2016 in the Journal of Pain. As each patient focuses on the VR surroundings, he or she finds personal appeal. The player/patient determines speed, direction, and length of time that the experience lasts within the VR environment.  The “Cool” program runs with a VR helmet or an immersive 3-D screen-based system. According to the Deep Stream VR website, the program directs you down tunnels and entrances of your choice to engage you and draw focus as biosensors help control the intensity of the experience while maximizing the benefits. The goal is to divert the viewer’s attention away from the pain. Each player can find his or her own mix of active fun and relaxation. Biofeedback components (right up my alley) enhance mindfulness and resilience training. This is all good news.

     

    Availability


    The Oculus Rift DK2 VR display goggles were specifically designed to help use the chronic pain application. Oculus Rift goggles are available for around $600.  

     

    The “Cool” program/application is still in beta testing for in-home use. But don’t despair; various virtual reality headsets/goggles are now available that work with computer applications and smart phones. And there are other helpful applications on the market. For instance, there are VR apps that enhance the power of guided meditation, virtual meditation games, virtual training for physical tasks such as Tai Chi and other helpful movement strategies.

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    If you tolerate the VR experience, the number of future applications could be limitless.

     

    Are you VR experienced?


    Do you have experience with both virtual reality and chronic pain? If so, WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

     

    Leave a comment here at HealthCentral. Please share your experience with us, so we can hear about it from a patient's perspective. Remember: we are our own, and each other's, best advocates.

     

    Additional Reading:

    MIT Technology Review - Better Than Opioids? Virtual Reality Could Be Your Next Painkiller

    Wareable – How VR Headsets Work

     


    Celeste Cooper, RN, is a chronic pain patient, freelance writer, and contributor to the Health Central Community. She is also lead author of five published self-help books and enjoys writing and advocating for people living with chronic pain as a participant in a local patient leadership group and the PAINS Project. You can learn more about Celeste’s writing, advocacy work, helpful tips, and social network connections at CelesteCooper.com.

     

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Published On: October 28, 2016