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Virtual Reality as an Additional Pain Management Treatment Option

First Inpatient Hospital Study Using VR Goggles Shows Significant Pain Reduction Benefits, No Adverse Effects

Findings from a new comparative cohort study conducted by researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Health Services Research, Los Angeles, suggests that virtual reality therapy can significantly reduce pain for hospitalized patients, and that it may be an effective adjunctive therapy to complement traditional pain management protocols in the inpatient setting. The authors state that although VR has been assessed for a variety of conditions including wound care, rehabilitation, anxiety management, and certain chronic pain presentations, theirs is the first study focused on managing pain in hospitalized patients. Co-author Brennan Spiegel, MD, director of Cedars-Sinai’s Health Service Research, commented, “Results indicate virtual reality may be an effective tool along with traditional pain management protocols. This gives doctors and patients more options than medication alone.”

The study examined 100 hospitalized patients who reported numeric pain rating scores of 3 or higher on the 1 to 10 scale. One-half of these received virtual reality therapy consisting of a 15-minute intervention using VR goggles to view calming video content. The remaining 50 patients viewed a standard 2-dimensional distraction video. The VR intervention cohort recorded a 24% drop in pain scores postsession vs a 13.2% decrease reported by the control group. The authors hypothesize that VR therapy may create an immersive distraction by “hijacking” the auditory, visual, and proprioception senses, that restricts the mind from processing pain. They call for further research to evaluate the neurobiological mechanisms of VR across pain conditions and measure whether the benefits persist beyond the immediate VR treatment period.

Read more about the study findings here.

The journal article may be accessed here.

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