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Pain Management During Medical Procedures Using Virtual Reality

The first thing to know is that pain is created in our brain. It is constantly monitoring and making sense of all the things our body is doing and feeling. As we know pain is helpful, it sends a warning signal and lets us know that there might be something wrong with our bodies A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showed that in 2019, 20.4% of adults had chronic pain and 7.4% of adults had chronic pain that frequently limited life or work activities (National Health Interview Survey, 2019). But the body sometimes gets confused and sends a pain signal to the brain, when our body is not really in danger. Like during giving a blood test. But luckily we can learn to change what our brain and body do with that pain signal.

When we don’t do anything and just focus on a sensation the brain receives the signal at full strength, so we feel 100% of that pain.

There are multiple methods of how to control the pain signaling system of our body and brain, one of them is a distraction using virtual reality.

VR in Pain Management

Therapeutic virtual reality (VR), an immersive, computer-generated technology in medicine, is gradually gaining popularity. It is mostly used to ease pain and anxiety pre-and during medical procedures, such as (venipuncture, dental, pre-operative procedures, etc.). Patients report 35–50% reductions in procedural pain while in a distracting immersive world (Hoffman, 2019).

How does it work?

Put on a motion-sensing VR headset and you will be taken to another, 360-degree virtual world. The experience feels quite real, and your brain starts to believe in it.

When children are engaged in VR games, they barely feel the stick of a needle venipuncture or vaccination. Or in dental care, it is shown that using VR, helps children, and not only, to experience less pain during the procedure.

Interactive vs Passive VR

Interactive virtual reality is 360-degree immersive content that surrounds a user as if they are standing in the middle of a scene compared to passive view, which is just like observing (2D).

By comparing participants who were exposed to interactive and passive scenarios, interactive scenarios showed a higher level of distraction and greater reduction of pain and anxiety. Interactive VR is 374% more effective than 2D, traditional content.

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