The possibility of using virtual games reality to alleviate pain

April 6, 2016 by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress report

(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with York St John University, in the U.K. has found positive results in testing a virtual reality (VR) gaming system as a possible non-pharmacological analgesic to aid in pain management. In their paper published in Royal Society Open Science, the researchers describe their study which consisted of experiments with local volunteers, their results, and why they believe such technology may one day become a part of pain management strategies.

Anyone who has played a video game for any length of time knows that they allow the mind to stray to another world, leaving behind thoughts of the here and now. Some may have even noticed that such a distraction can prove useful during times when there is pain, either physical or emotional. Medical scientists have heard about such instances and have begun to investigate the idea of using VR has an actual means of alleviating pain. In this new effort, the researchers enlisted the assistance of 32 adult volunteers from across the campus, asking them to participate in a experiment.

The experiment consisted of having each participant dunk their non-dominant hand in a small tub of very (1°C) while they played Radial-G (an interactive VR racing game) using their other hand and wearing an Oculus Rift DK2 Head Mounted Display and sound canceling headphones. Each volunteer was asked to complete four trials under four different conditions: no headset and no sound, sound only, headset only, and with both devices going. Tolerance for pain was measured as the amount of time the volunteer could keep their hand in the cold water before succumbing to the pain and pulling it out (each was asked to keep their hand in the water for as long as they could stand.)

In analyzing the results, the researchers found that the volunteers who had both the headset and sound going consistently managed to keep their hands in the cold water the longest. They also found that those who wore just the headset or headphones also lasted longer in the water than did those who did not have any VR experience to distract them. This, the team suggests, implies that VR gaming systems do appear to offer enough distraction to allow for a reduction in pain sensations. They acknowledge that their results are preliminary, and that the setting was quite different from that of patients experiencing pain from other sources, but believe further study is warranted.

Explore further: From virtual reality to noise control—how to manipulate the senses to relieve pain

More information: Sarah Johnson et al. Sound can enhance the analgesic effect of virtual reality, Royal Society Open Science (2016). DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150567

Virtual reality (VR) technology may serve as an effective non-pharmacological analgesic to aid pain management. During VR distraction, the individual is immersed in a game presented through a head-mounted display (HMD). The technological level of the HMD can vary, as can the use of different input devices and the inclusion of sound. While more technologically advanced designs may lead to more effective pain management the specific roles of individual components within such systems are not yet fully understood. Here, the role of supplementary auditory information was explored owing to its particular ecological relevance. Healthy adult participants took part in a series of cold-pressor trials submerging their hand in cold water for as long as possible. Individual pain tolerances were measured according to the time (in seconds) before the participant withdrew their hand. The concurrent use of a VR game and the inclusion of sound was varied systematically within participants. In keeping with previous literature, the use of a VR game increased pain tolerance across conditions. Highest pain tolerance was recorded when participants were simultaneously exposed to both the VR game and supplementary sound. The simultaneous inclusion of sound may therefore play an important role when designing VR to manage pain.

Related Stories

From virtual reality to noise control—how to manipulate the senses to relieve pain

March 31, 2016
The next time you habitually search your bathroom cabinet for some pain medication, you may want to consider playing a video game first. Research has shown that psychology plays an important part in how we experience both ...

Oculus unveils new prototype VR headset

September 20, 2014
Oculus has unveiled a new prototype of its virtual reality headset. However, the VR company still isn't ready to release a consumer edition.

A look at how Oculus compares to Vive and PlayStation VR

March 24, 2016
After four years of hype, high-end virtual reality is coming to consumers' living rooms next week with the release of the consumer edition of the Oculus Rift. The debut will be followed by the introduction of similar high-fidelity ...

Ten cool applications for virtual reality that aren't just games

March 23, 2016
When you mention virtual reality (VR), most people's thoughts turn to video games. Indeed, Sony has just announced its new Playstation VR headset. But VR isn't just about gaming. There are many other interesting and exciting ...

Recommended for you

Exercise-induced hormone irisin triggers bone remodeling in mice

December 13, 2018
Exercise has been touted to build bone mass, but exactly how it actually accomplishes this is a matter of debate. Now, researchers show that an exercise-induced hormone activates cells that are critical for bone remodeling ...

Law professor suggests a way to validate and integrate deep learning medical systems

December 13, 2018
University of Michigan professor W. Nicholson Price, who also has affiliations with Harvard Law School and the University of Copenhagen Faculty of Law, suggests in a Focus piece published in Science Translational Medicine, ...

Faster test for Ebola shows promising results in field trials

December 13, 2018
A team of researchers with members from the U.S., Senegal and Guinea, in cooperation with Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), has developed a faster test for the Ebola virus than those currently in use. In their paper published ...

Pain: Perception and motor impulses arise in brain independently of one another

December 13, 2018
Pain is a negative sensation that we want to get rid of as soon as possible. In order to protect our bodies, we react by withdrawing the hand from heat, for example. This action is usually understood as the consequence of ...

Drug targets for Ebola, Dengue, and Zika viruses found in lab study

December 13, 2018
No drugs are currently available to treat Ebola, Dengue, or Zika viruses, which infect millions of people every year and result in severe illness, birth defects, and even death. New research from the Gladstone Institutes ...

Researchers give new insight to muscular dystrophy patients

December 13, 2018
New research by University of Minnesota scientists has revealed the three-dimensional structure of the DUX4 protein, which is responsible for the disease, facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). Unlike the majority ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.