Could Virtual Reality Cure Chronic Pain?


People suffering with chronic pain may soon be able to see meaningful improvements in their condition by going into an alternate universe.

Virtual Reality (VR) games has been experimented on by researchers and physicians for years as a way to reduce pain symptoms. But while a lot of the research has been centered around patients undergoing extremely painful medical procedures, such as cleaning and re-bandaging a burn, the technology could also be a helpful tool for those with chronic pain and anxiety.

Jeffrey Gold, the director of the Pediatric Pain Management Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, has used VR with many of the kids at his facility. He said the goal of VR is to maintain a “cognitive load” that distracts users from their pain by having them focus on a task within the game.

“The primary treatment for chronic pain is movement, but a lot of people with chronic pain are afraid of moving,” said David Patterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, to Polygon. “So there’s now some paradigms out there that encourage movement through VR but also address the fear of movement that people have.”

VR-related studies around chronic pain have proven to be encouraging. One study found patients enjoying the game so much that they completely forgot about their chronic pain. Although VR isn’t a complete cure-all and should be done in conjunction with a treatment and medication plan, Gold noted that with VR, “there’s no addiction, no side effects, and it’s portable.”

Several of these products are already out on the market and available to purchase. These include inexpensive Google cardboard viewers all the way up to the HTC Five, which retails for $800.