Virtual Reality (VR) has been increasingly used to manage pain, trauma, and distress–particularly during painful medical procedures–as investigators hypothesize that VR acts as a nonpharmacologic form of analgesia by exerting “an array of emotional affective, emotion-based cognitive and attentional processes on the body’s intricate pain modulation system.” While originally recognized for its entertainment value, the application has expanded to a number of clinical areas.
A study conducted by Cedars-Sinai using virtual reality therapy, during which participants wore virtual reality goggles to watch calming video content, indicated that VR may be an effective tool in addition to traditional pain management protocols. Moreover, VR gives doctors more options than solely medication or pharmaceuticals.
More recent research tested real world dental procedures, using circumstances that included a cold pressor lab setup and virtual reality headsets. The participants were immersed in two differing environments: a calm beachside walk, and a busy urban situation that was rife with distractions. The calming scene was significantly more effective in terms of improving the ways participants experience and remember pain, during tooth extractions and fillings.
While the data is not unpredictable, the study points to the fact that it is important to discern what types of virtual reality environments are effective in alleviating pain. Perhaps more importantly, future variations may include certain virtual situations that are better at reducing pain in other procedures.