So we’ve looked at how Virtual Reality can enhance our social lives. Now we’re going to discuss the medical benefits of the technology. Particularly in pain management. There have already been studies and papers on the subject that have provided conclusive evidence that Virtual Reality can lessen the sensation of pain, both chronic and temporary.
Studies have shown that it definitively helps with pain management for burns patients undergoing wound care. In particular, experiments carried out at the University of Washington showed that a 40 year old burns patient with 19% of his body covered in burns benefited greatly from the combination of hydrotherapy and virtual reality usage.
He experienced less pain when using the headset than in previous treatments. Concentration on an immersive visual world, it would seem, overrides some of the pain processed by the brain. “We believe that VR analgesia works by drawing attention away from the wound care, leaving less attention available to process incoming pain signals.” say the authors of this paper.
Hoffman and Patterson, who conducted the above experiment, have even developed an app with Firsthand Technology to help alleviate pain felt during wound care. The app is an immersive, Pixar-like snow scene. The patient experiences gentle surprises and gets to throw snowballs. This distracts them almost entirely from painful procedures such as wound dressing.
Daniel Harvie, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Australia, experimented to see whether Virtual Reality could help treat patients with chronic neck pain. He and his colleagues asked 24 participants who suffer from chronic neck pain to sit in a chair while wearing virtual-reality glasses and turn their head. They engaged with an app that simulated movement. Subjects were able to swivel their heads more when they perceived that they were turning less. This showed that some of the psychosomatic pain they experienced could be countered with Virtual Reality.
In the above, I have mentioned just a couple of apps used in pain management. The first was a game to distract, the latter was to change perception. However, all sorts of apps can work well for helping those in pain.
Studies showed that concentration on complicated maths problems during wound care sessions were distracted from, and felt less, pain. The snowball game mentioned earlier also helped distract burns patients from wound dressing sessions. So it seems that focusing on something that exerts your brainpower is helpful. There are plenty of apps that feature this sort of problem solving.
The game #SelfieTennis for HTC Vive is set to be a great one for those less keen on adventure games – it’s also a fantastically weird combination of Wii Tennis and Snapchat. The satisfaction of rallying makes it a good distraction though.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)
According to the Wikipedia entry “…is a euphoric experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine, precipitating relaxation.” The sensation known as ASMR is interesting because it is triggered by sounds or visuals that create a physical feeling in the body. Not everyone responds to the same triggers and it is unknown whether everyone even experiences ASMR. However, it has incredible therapeutic power for those who do respond to it.
Many ASMR videos on YouTube simulate doctor’s appointments and check ups. These experiences are known to be incredibly relaxing and pleasurable for many people, often releasing the “tingles” characteristic of ASMR. Another common feature is whispering and creating sounds such as tapping or crunching.
Nitin Ahuja of the University of Virginia, found that simulated personal attention by an actor in a video might afford patients actual relief from pain. These videos are already being made in 360 degrees, which can be watched from YouTube on your phone with a headset. Some examples are by ASMRrequests and Paris ASMR (who did this lovely giveaway for us).
As we have seen, Virtual Reality offers several solutions to help with pain management. The principles are found in traditional formats too, you don’t need Virtual Reality. But, it’s clear that this new format is far more immersive and therefore more effective. The outside world can be blocked off. With it, some of the pain. Especially psychosomatic pain associated with some chronic conditions.
There were lots of apps I could have covered here with more space. Meditation is also proven to be therapeutic. Virtual Reality offers fantastic meditation experiences. Futhermore, just watching 360 videos and simulations takes you pretty far away from the real world. There is so much to explore. We’ve only just begun!
To discover phone powered Virtual Reality, get yourself a Freefly VR headset and explore the possibilities.