Instead of painkillers? RV technologies apparently help even in cases of severe pain. As one study suggests, immersion in virtual worlds significantly alleviates the discomfort of the pain patient – and works better than other distractions. Interestingly, the analgesic effect lasts up to 72 hours. Thus, the treatment of virtual reality could even be an alternative to the use of painkillers.
Virtual reality (VR) has long been a trend in the computer game industry. But it is becoming increasingly clear that technology also has potential for medicine. For example, immersing yourself in realistic computer-generated worlds can help people overcome their anxiety and trauma. Even patients with pain seem to benefit from virtual therapies, as suggested by the original studies. The researchers suggest that the experiences of the other reality distract the affected people so much that they perceive their pain less.
However, it is not known if this works well in patients with very severe pain. "Nearly half of hospitalized patients are in pain, a quarter of them are perceived as" unbearable ", said Brennan Spiegel Cedars-Sinai Los Angeles Health Systems and colleagues. Often, only powerful painkillers such as opioids can help, but these medications can be addictive and their effects are weakened by an addictive effect after a while.
Distraction via VR glasses
"There is an urgent need for non-pharmacological treatment methods," say the doctors. Is virtual reality a possible alternative to the treatment of drug pain? To find out, scientists have now performed the test with 120 patients from Cedars-Sinai Hospital. The study participants had different underlying diseases, but they all suffered from pain, the strength of which was rated on a scale of one to ten with more than three.
For the study, 61 of the subjects received a pair of virtual reality glasses that allowed them to experience different things – from relaxation exercises in nature to flight simulations to animated games. They were instructed to dive three times for ten minutes each into the world of virtual reality over the next 48 hours. As an alternative, the other 59 participants were invited to turn on a health and wellness television channel, which included relaxation classes and poetry readings.
The pain eases
The results revealed: "The effect of VR therapy clearly exceeded that of the control intervention," reports Spiegel. On average, the perceived pain in the control group only decreased by 0.46 points, in the VR group of 1.72. Among patients suffering from very severe pain, the superiority of virtual therapy was even more pronounced.
Those who had previously reported pain over seven years showed an improvement of 3.04 points on average with VR treatment. On the other hand, the television only granted a relief of 0.93 in this case. Interesting too: the positive effect of VR was not only measurable directly after the intervention phase. He also arrived 48 to 72 hours later, as reported by Spiegel and his team.
Replacement of opioids?
According to the researchers, this suggests that virtual reality can distract pain patients more effectively than other measures and that this is particularly effective in cases of severe discomfort. Nevertheless, many things are not yet clear: What types of virtual reality are the best ways to reduce pain? Are there specific patients who are particularly sensitive to this form of treatment? And can virtual reality therapies really reduce the need for opioids?
"The field of therapeutic VR continues to grow and evolve, and our study confirms the benefits of this technology for pain management in hospitalized patients, but there are still outstanding issues that should be examined further. detail in the future, "concluded the team. (PLOS One, 2019, doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0219115)