Dr. Kim Bullock, a Stanford University neuropsychiatrist, has discovered that virtual reality provides significant relief for chronic pain sufferers. She made the discovery by accident when studying the role of virtual reality to treat severe anxiety and other non-physical conditions. This finding is quite the welcome ancillary benefit of VR for those plagued by chronic physical pain. Virtual reality has proven so effective that it has resulted in the full elimination of some patients’ chronic pain.
The Incredible Healing Power of VR
Imagine reaching your golden years and being unable to lift a saucepan, skillet and other cookware. Years of physical stress combined with deteriorating bones and muscle mass leave plenty of people with chronic debilitating pain. Though there are plenty of prescription medications available to treat chronic pain, they come with side effects. Virtual reality relieves chronic pain without such side effects. This high-tech form of pain relief is relatively new so there is a limited amount of information regarding its success rate, efficacy and range of use. Yet most of Dr. Bullock’s patients who have tried VR have enjoyed rapid pain relief that lasted a week or longer. Many patients enjoyed VR-induced pain relief that lasted several months. This technology doesn’t merely offset some of the pain. It prompts a total elimination of the pain for a lengthy period of time.
How VR Relieves Chronic Pain
Let’s take a look at an example of how Dr. Bullock’s patients use of VR for chronic pain relief. Consider a patient plagued by chronic pain in his left arm. He straps on a virtual reality headset and sensors with motion controls. He moves his pain-free right arm in the virtual setting. Yet when he looks through the VR goggles, he sees his injured left arm moving. These aren’t haphazard random movements. Rather, virtual reality software is programmed for patients to perform specific movements in a highly orchestrated fashion, such as moving one’s arm in a precise manner to pop virtual balloons that float around the simulated landscape. One of Dr. Bullock’s patients who suffers from chronic arm pain participated in such a virtual session five times and his pain completely disappeared.
This form of high-tech chronic pain treatment works by tricking the brain. The simulated virtual environment re-wires the brain to more of a normal state so the patient does not experience as much pain. It is quite the clever means of combating chronic physical pain. Many medical professionals believe virtual reality is so effective that it will eventually become the primary means of treating chronic pain.
Why VR for Chronic Pain Relief Will Soon Explode in Popularity
The beauty of using VR for chronic pain relief extends beyond the diminished physical pain. Consider the fact that plenty of pain sufferers hesitate to ingest pain relief medication as it induces an array of undesired side effects. Virtual reality produces no such side effects. Virtual reality is also quite cheap compared to the typical pain relief medications. As noted above, it might not even take half a dozen virtual reality sessions to eliminate chronic pain. These sessions last less than an hour, empowering patients to drastically reduce pain without investing a significant amount of time.
It is also important to note that virtual reality is inherently fun. Just about everyone enjoys video games. Though the virtual reality simulations designed to relieve chronic pain are not centered on entertaining the participant, they are still quite enjoyable. There really is something magical about entering a virtual realm filled with colorful objects and a seemingly realistic landscape that allows for real-time interactions.