Virtual Reality Therapy as an Adjunct to Pain Management

BECAUSE MANY CHRONIC PAIN PATIENTS STILL EXPERIENCE pain on narcotics, it is evident that pharmacologic therapy is only part of the solution to pain management. The continued and growing recognition of psychological and social factors in pain management requires consideration of additional approaches to this complex, multimodal problem. A very effective approach, cognitive behavioral therapy, works to shift negative thoughts on pain to positive and empowering ones. Distraction techniques, such as meditation, hypnosis, and guided imagery, aim to divert attention away from pain altogether. Virtual reality (VR) is an especially effective medium for distraction (1), where the borders of reality can be modified in ways that enhance the therapeutic process. VR systems are also compatible with biosensors and brain imaging devices, making a comprehensive assessment of the global effects of pain and chronic pain syndromes possible. Furthermore, witnessing how their own brains react to pain, medication, and pain-reducing stimuli can help sufferers learn to control how they perceive pain (2).