IMAJ | volume
Journal 4, April 2006
Background: Virtual reality immersion has been advocated as a new effective adjunct to drugs for pain control. The attenuation of pain perception and unpleasantness has been attributed to the patient's attention being diverted from the real, external environment through immersion in a virtual environment transmitted by an interactive 3-D software computer program via a VR helmet.
Objectives: To investigate whether VR immersion can extend the amount of time subjects can tolerate ischemic tourniquet pain.
Methods: The study group comprised 20 healthy adult volunteers. The pain was induced by an inflated blood pressure cuff during two separate, counterbalanced, randomized experimental conditions for each subject: one with VR and the control without VR exposure. The VR equipment consisted of a standard computer, a lightweight helmet and an interactive software game.
Results: Tolerance time to ischemia was significantly longer for VR conditions than for those without (P < 0.001). Visual Analogue Scale (0–10) ratings were recorded for pain intensity, pain unpleasantness, and the time thought about pain. Affective distress ratings of unpleasantness and of time thought about pain were significantly lower during VR as compared with the control condition (P < 0.003 and 0.001 respectively).
Conclusions: The VR method in pain control was shown to be beneficial. The relatively inexpensive equipment will facilitate the use of VR immersion in clinical situations. Future research is necessary to establish the optimal selection of clinical patients appropriate for VR pain therapy and the type of software required according to age, gender, personality, and cultural factors.