VR sessions have been used to help treat anxiety disorders, support physical rehabilitation and distract patients during wound care. Previous studies testing the intervention in hospitalized patients have been limited by short intervention times and lack of randomization.
‘Virtual reality therapy can tamp down pain signals through a variety of mechanisms.’
On average, self-reported pain scores went down by 0.46 points (SD 3.01) in the control group and dropped by 1.72 points (SD 3.56) among people who used VR. Among patients with baseline pain above 7 out of 10, this difference was more pronounced, with a reduction of 0.93 points (SD 2.16) in the control group and of 3.04 (SD 3.75) in the VR group (p=0.02). Effects of the VR intervention on pain were significant both initially and after 48 to 72 hours of use, and patients reported higher satisfaction with the VR experience than with watching television. There was no difference in opioid prescribing between the study groups.
While it’s still not clear whether different forms of VR have varying efficacy, the current study does support the effectiveness of VR for managing inpatient pain. This effectiveness also prompts many questions deserving future study, especially around the possibility of therapeutic VR’s ability to potentially reduce opioid requirements.
Spiegel adds: “In this study, the largest of its kind to date, hospitalized patients with pain were randomized between VR or a relaxation program on TV. The VR outperformed the control condition and demonstrated benefits over several days of use.”
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