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Virtual Reality: The New Paradigm in Pain Management

For those suffering from chronic and acute pain, there’s new treatment therapy that isn’t an opioid. Virtual Reality (VR) Therapy helps patients cope with discomfort by creating an immersive, interactive, and serene environment so overpowering that the brain cannot process the feeling of pain.

VR Therapy can help alleviate needle insertion pain in children, burn victims, and enhance the efficacy of physical therapy, hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy.

How VR Therapy Works

When patients put on the VR headset the device creates a multi-sensory experience that engages the brain at a level where it can no longer register pain signals. One VR environment, called SnowWorld, helps alleviate the pain that accompanies cleaning a burn victim’s wounds. The world serves as a stark contrast to fire and heat, as patient’s navigate a snowy environment to help distract them from the pain of their original injury.

VR as Teacher

And although patients experience pain after the headset comes off, the VR experience can serve as a useful adjunct to teach patients how to manage and practice mindfulness around pain through the immersive environment. For example, a VR environment can help patients move and gently exercise without the fear of pain. When they realize that their pain isn’t inevitable, patients are more inclined to move on their own.

What’s Next

As VR headsets become more affordable, more companies continue to develop new therapeutic environments to help train the brain. For now, VR therapy is an effective tool for a host of applications without carrying the baggage of opioids.

Source: New York Times

Sonja Stilp M.D. is a doctor and founder of RISE. She is a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician with fellowship training in interventional spine and sports medicine.  Dr. Stilp has advanced training in regenerative medicine and orthobiologics for the treatment of spine and sports injuries. Schedule an appointment to meet with Dr. Stilp at RISE in Boulder, Colorado.

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