VR can help you manage your pain, reduce your need for painkillers and save money
Hollie Davis was hurting following an April 2018 traffic accident that left her with a broken hand and torn gluteus maximus muscles and ligaments. Davis had been riding the back of the motorcycle her husband was operating when a passenger vehicle turned into them, she says. “I was basically black and blue and swollen from the waist down,” Davis, 41, recalls.
Four months after the accident, Davis was still experiencing serious pain on her left side, where the vehicle had slammed into her. She suffered pain in her left knee, lower back and gluteal area. Sometimes the pain was sharp, sometimes throbbing. A doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant and a non-opioid painkiller; the medication’s effects were modest. The physical therapist she’d been seeing as part of her recovery regimen asked Davis if she’d be willing to try virtual reality to help manage her pain. Sure, Davis responded.
A physical therapist placed Davis in a room, outfitted her with virtual reality goggles and turned off the lights. Davis was immersed in a VR program that showed three-dimensional images of how nerves worked in the human body. Other VR programs showed peaceful beach and mountain images and taught breathing and relaxation techniques. Davis adopted the techniques, which “helped me manage my pain and made it easier to do my physical therapy exercises,” she says. “It’s part of a bigger (rehabilitative) picture.” Today, “I’m doing pretty good. There’s still some up and down days, but things are progressing in a positive direction,” she says.
Spurred by research that suggests VR can help alleviate the anxiety and pain of patients suffering from acute and chronic pain, and the fact that the technology is becoming more affordable, a growing number of health care providers are using virtual reality to ease physical suffering. More than 250 hospitals nationwide use VR from AppliedVR, a Los Angeles-based company, says Matthew Stoudt, chief executive officer of the company. Virtual reality – which puts viewers in an immersive, multi-sensory three-dimensional environment – can effectively distract patients from pain, studies suggest. For instance, research published in 2017 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research concluded that the use of VR in hospitalized patients “significantly reduces pain” compared to a two-dimensional video. A separate study, published in 2016 in the journal PLOS One, found that a five-minute virtual reality experience decreased the sensation of chronic pain by an average of 33 percent from pre-session to post-session. The study involved 30 participants who suffered from an array of chronic pain disorders, including cervical spine pain, lumbar spine pain, hip pain and abdominal pain.
Image Credit: AppliedVR