Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Virtual Reality for Pain Relief


Treatment of pain has changed by the interfere of virtual reality (VR)

Using virtual reality for distraction, visual feedback and neurophysiology stimuli in the mix of medical procedures had been proven to reduce pain dramatically. But some feared that this type of involvement might mask the underpinning issue, lead to misdiagnose or less effective treatment. But who would refuse a treatment with less pain?



Recent research

In early 2014, a research group in Wuhan China used VR as distraction for patients experiencing pain during their dressing change. The images of the VR attracted these patients’ attention so much that they could not realise how painful the other parts of their bodies were going through.


In the same year, another research in Bethesda United States integrated VR into mirror therapy for treating patients with phantom limb pain. They used the visual feedback from the VR to “recreate” the missing limb. This allowed the patients to move, exercises and even perform full range of motion with the limb in a virtual environment. By doing these, their pain was significantly decreased or even disappeared.


Last year, the involvement of VR in treatment of pain rose to another level by cooperating with cognitive behavioural therapy – exposure therapy.  Although it was only a proof of concept, a study in the University of Cape Town in South Africa investigated the virtual reality effect on patients had fear of movement and exercises due to pain catastrophization. Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) of painful exercises was given to carefully selected candidates. Their brain activities were recorded and compared with healthy people during the experiment. Results showed the activated functional brain areas from the two groups were very similar. This meant by experiencing this therapy, these candidates could “exercise” without moving their body. Therefore less pain for them.


Don’t we all want it?

The details of the technology and the therapy were beyond my understanding. But the potentials showed from these research would make hospitals or dental clinics much less frightening for people, especially children. Without the disturbance of pain, people could describe their other symptoms in a calm and rational way. Would not this be more efficient and accurate for health professionals? Unless it was urgent and lethal conditions which required to be dealt with immediately. As long as the whole process was tolerable, people could still carry on with the other parts of their life. Is not this what we all want?


These researches and studies were just a corner of the iceberg in using VR for pain relief. The very possible next step after this could be even more promising and exciting. Medical treatments would be entering a revolutionary era – procedures with pleasure maybe, by involving more virtual reality.




  • Deidre Morris, L Louw, Q A Grimmer, K A Meintjes, E 2015, “Targeting pain catastrohpization in patients with fibromyalgia using virtual reality exposure therapy: a proof-of-concept study”, Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 2015, vol. 27, no. 11, pp, 3461-3467. Retrived 14 March 2016, CINAHL complete database.




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This entry was posted on April 11, 2016 by in Burwood - Wednesday 11am.

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