During two pauses in the wound care procedure — once after each 6-minute wound care period with and without virtual reality — each patient completed 3 subjective pain ratings using a graphic rating scale with a range of 0 to 10. Outcomes were as follows after wound care with virtual reality vs without:

  • “Worst pain” (pain intensity) dropped from 6.25 of 10 to 4.50 of 10
  • “Pain unpleasantness” ratings dropped from “moderate” (6.25 of 10) to “mild” (2.83 of 10)
  • “Time spent thinking about pain” dropped from 76% during no virtual reality to 22% during virtual reality
  • Patients rated “no virtual reality” as “no fun at all” (<1 of 10) and rated virtual reality as “pretty fun” (7.5 of 10)
  • Follow-up analyses demonstrated that virtual reality was especially effective for the 6 patients who scored 7 of 10 or higher (severe to excruciating) on the “worst pain” (pain intensity) ratings

Pain reduction during virtual reality was greatest in patients with the highest pain during wound care without the technology, the researchers found.

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In a second study by Hoffman et al published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers measured objective physiologic neural correlates of the SnowWorld virtual reality experience using custom-built goggles designed to immerse patients while simultaneously assessing brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Similar to the findings observed in the previous study, participants reported feeling moderate to severe pain on subjective pain rating scales when pain stimuli were administered with no virtual reality; they reported experiencing much less pain while immersed in SnowWorld.

On fMRI, neural correlates of pain showed 50% or greater, statistically significant reductions in pain-related brain activity in all 5 brain regions studied, including the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, thalamus, and the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices.

“Short-duration, acute episodic pain has really been where this therapy has proven out thus far. There have been some good studies looking at chronic pain, but right now the literature is looking more at favorable outcomes in these patients,” Ms. Mallick-Searle said.  

She called for more methodologically sound and statistically well-powered controlled studies to assess the effectiveness of immersive virtual reality distraction therapies in reducing the discomfort associated with a variety of invasive medical procedures and chronic pain conditions.

This article originally appeared on MPR