VR and no VR treatments compared using fMRI

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What if we could minimize the amount of deleterious painkillers and risky anesthetic procedures simply by providing someone with a distraction? Many people have at some time experienced how distraction can minimize pain, and now virtual reality products are emerging for practical use in healthcare.

Pain is a major reason people seek medical treatment, and one of the main factors that we want to minimize during medical procedures. Like most ‘feelings’ it is also an incredibly difficult concept to objectively measure, and is almost entirely subjective based on the individual. Previous experience, sensitivity, and psycho-social factors all play into our perception of what we perceive as an unpleasant, protective response.

Though it is difficult to tell someone that the pain they are experiencing is ‘all in their head,’ this is the most basic explanation of what is behind the sensation. The way that our brain interprets the signals we receive dictates what we feel.

Firsthand is a virtual reality company which is using the individual interpretation of pain experience to create a product which provides an alternate treatment to manage pain levels. With animation playing for a subject undergoing a medical procedure, early trials have shown a decrease in reported pain for those using the Firsthand virtual reality masks. Subjects wearing the mask can engage in a game such as ‘SnowWorld,’throwing snowballs at objects while they virtually navigate an icy terrain.

A great aspect of Firsthand’s trial is the ability to specify parameters used during the VR experience: a wide field of view above 60 degrees, visual flow, and engaging interaction.This provides a framework toward future use, with the hope that VR can become standardized for pain control.

Numerous studies in medicine and dentistry have begun to turn toward virtual reality as an analgesic. In one study, subjects undergoing a burn wound debridement reported significantly decreased pain when using VR as a distraction. Burn wound debridements are incredibly painful, and it is amazing that numerous subjects would report decreased pain during this procedure without medication.

For those dealing with chronic pain whose only medical option is often medication after failing numerous other treatments, Firsthand could offer some hope to help break the pain cycle. And for those undergoing medical procedures, Firsthand could provide an alternate experience to minimize the recovery and side effects of anesthesia and strong pain medications.

Watch the video below for more insight of how virtual reality can provide an alternative to painkillers for those dealing with chronic pain:

 

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