Repeated VR distraction reduces pain perception

Distraction through virtual-reality technology was found to reduce pain perceptions after repeated exposures in a University of Maryland study published in The Journal of Pain.

The test subjects did not, as expected, adjust their pain perceptions or become habituated to the stimulation over time.

Virtual-reality interventions allow the user to interact with a responsive multisensory virtual experience generated by a computer through a wide-angle display headset and headphones. The technology is presumed to influence pain perception by competing for the subject's attention and blocking external stimulation. It takes attention away from pain stimuli, but the effect may diminish after repeated exposure as the novelty of the experience decreases.

This is the first study to assess the long-term effect of adjunctive virtual reality pain treatment. Twenty-eight young adults participated and were exposed to a virtual-reality experience eight times in eight weeks to counteract the effect of cold pressor pain stimuli.

Results showed the subjects had increased pain tolerance during the virtual-reality experience relative to baseline. There also were significant decreases in ratings of pain intensity, anxiety and time spent thinking about pain. None of the pain distraction effects of virtual-reality treatment diminished over time in the test subjects. The authors concluded that virtual-reality distraction may have potential to be clinically effective over extended exposures.

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