Pain Relief with Virtual Reality


Whilst reading the book Dissolving Pain: Simple Brain Training Exercises for Overcoming Chronic Pain we came across a really interesting section discussing how Virtual Reality has helped with burn victims.

The research study in to Virtual Reality and its effect which took place at the University of Washington and lead to the development of a product called “Snow World

What “Snow World” shows is that the mind can dissolve pain with the use of distraction and immersion as the below study and image shows.

One patient thought of his pain 95% of the time while playing the video game, but just 2% of the time while his attention was far more fully diverted and engaged by his action in Virtual Reality gear. The other patient went from thinking of his pain 91% of the time while watching the video to 36% in virtual reality.
Source Dissolving Pain pg 69.


This shows that Virtual Reality is much more effective than pure distraction, immersing yourself in the situation is what makes a big difference. This could be why hypnotherapy using techniques like Glove Anesthesia and those used by Dr Dabney Ewin are so effective.

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The power of virtual reality to control the pain is fully understood when we realise the following:

For people who have been severely burned, peeling off old bandages that is always extremely painful. Even morphine only dulls the excruciating pain. Wearing goggles that create total immersion in the cold, snowy world, however, enables patients to enter a space nearly free of pain.
Source Dissolving Pain pg 69.

The founder, Dr. Hunter Hoffman, of the Virtual Reality system explains it further by stating:

Pain requires conscious attention. Being drawn into another world drain a lot of attentional resources, leaving less attention available to process pain signals.
Source Dissolving Pain pg 69.

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Discussion1 Comment

  1. I am one of the authors of SnowWorld (it was first built in 1998 and I have been doing work on it since about 2004). SnowWorld is great, but we are working on new and exciting applications including low-cost, high-quality immersive displays and new pain apps including research on VR for Chronic Pain. Here is a 3-minute documentary by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein on some of the recent VR pain work that debuted at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam.

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