Study Finds Virtual Reality Therapy Helps Decrease Pain in Hospitalized Patients

Study Finds Virtual Reality Therapy Helps Decrease Pain in Hospitalized Patients

Wearing virtual reality (VR) goggles and watching calming videos significantly reduces pain for hospitalized patients.

In a new study published by JMIR Mental Health, a sister publication of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, researchers examined 100 hospitalized patients who reported pain scores of greater than 3 on the Numeric Pain Rating Scale from zero to 10.

Fifty patients received virtual reality therapy consisting of wearing virtual reality goggles to watch calming video content such as helicopter rides over scenic portions of Iceland, or imagery of swimming in the ocean with whales. Another 50 patients viewed a standard, two-dimensional nature video, depicting relaxing scenes with a calming music audio track, on a close-proximity screen.

The patients using VR reported a 24 percent drop in pain scores after using the virtual reality goggles.  Those who watched the 2D content also experienced a reduction in pain, but the decrease of 13.2 percent was less dramatic.

“Results indicate virtual reality may be an effective tool along with traditional pain management protocols,” said Brennan Spiegel, MD, director of Cedars-Sinai’s Health Service Research. “This gives doctors and patients more options than medication alone.”

While it remains unknown exactly how VR works to reduce pain, Spiegel attributes the benefit to what he calls “immersive distraction.” In other words, when the mind is deeply engaged in an immersive experience, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to perceive other stimuli, including pain.

“We believe virtual reality hijacks the senses, but in a good way,” Spiegel said. “It creates an immersive distraction that stops the mind from processing pain, offering a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management.”

Because the VR intervention was only 15 minutes long and included only one visualization, it is possible that pain could rebound after completion of the therapy session, Spiegel said adding that longer-term pain reduction might require sustained and repeated exposure to varied virtual reality content.

“Based on this study, we’re now conducting a larger trial to measure the impact of virtual reality on the use of pain medications, length of hospital stay and post-discharge satisfaction scores,” Spiegel said.

Authored by: Staff

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Judy at 3:29 pm

    This sounds pretty ridiculous. I’d like to know how long after their 15 minute virtual reality trip their pain returned…..I’m guessing it wasn’t long before the pain returned to previous levels. So basically it lasts only as long as your trip…..about the same as doing meditation, or taking an epsom salt bath, or any of the other non-drug “treatments” the CDC & others are trying to tell us we should be doing. I don’t consider that to be pain RELIEF.

  2. Connie at 11:47 am

    Instead of living life chronic pain patients should live in a virtual reality? Personally I want to live life not spend it on a virtual reality! Give me a break and quit wasting my tax dollars on this type of stupidity!

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