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Op-Ed: Virtual reality therapy eases chronic pain? Apparently it does

By Paul Wallis     Jun 14, 2011 in Health
New York - The choice between chronic pain and a virtual reality experience isn’t hard to make. The fact that VR actually works as a pain reliever is a lot harder to explain. According to the American Pain Society, studies show marked positive results.
25 adults, aged from 25 to 60, were given different levels of “immersion” in a test VR program called Snow World, which includes mammoths, igloos, penguins and snowmen.
Professor Sam Sharar, of anaesthesiology at Washington University conducted the test. According to Prof. Sharar’s team, both “low immersion” and “full immersion” subjects showed some highly indicative reactions to the test:
Sharar's team performed two thermal simulations of the pain of a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as a spinal tap, for 30 seconds, once while subjects were not immersed in the VR program, and again when they were.
"Results showed a significant reduction in sensory, emotional, and cognitive pain components with VR treatment of either kind," the researchers said in the abstract for their presentation.
They added that the subjective analgesia effect was significantly greater in the high-immersion group.
Most surprisingly of all, the effects compared well with hydromorphone, an extremely powerful and very effective opioid anaesthetic.
The significance of these findings needs to be explained at this point: Pain management is now a primary medical issue for millions of people around the world. Expensive and sometimes dangerous drugs can produce serious side effects, even including withdrawals.
Worse, some traditional treatments aren’t particularly effective with chronic pain sufferers. There’s been an ongoing demand for better and safer options both inside the medical profession and from patients and their families, hence the extreme significance of the VR therapy results.
VR therapy is used in some United States burn centers, a good character reference to the types of severe pain under management using this methodology. Burns victims suffer serious neural damage which can be both excruciating and long lasting. Traditional pain management requires the use of the very heavy duty painkillers.
The VR therapy may be the beginning of a very different and very welcome relief to millions of chronic pain sufferers. This is a major departure from the “medication for everything” approach, particularly in pain management, and hopefully it will also provide the basis of realistic self-management options for those in severe pain.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Pain management, chronic pain therapy, Washington State University, professor Sam sharar, virtual reality pain management
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