Graduate students from St Joseph’s Hospital in France have developed a virtual program that can help patients increase pain tolerance without drugs. It uses VR or virtual reality to immerse them in a more relaxing environment, which helps lower the sensitivity of their pain receptors. In short, it’s a VR pain treatment that is both drug-free and remarkably effective.
Of course, this is not the first time something like this has surfaced. It turns out that virtual reality experiences may completely reprogram the way the human brain and nervous system responds to pain.
Any way you cut it, it’s a pretty inspiring concept and bodes well for those who want to steer clear of highly-addictive painkillers.
How Does the Drug-Free VR Pain Treatment Work?
Patients enter a more relaxing and immersive digital space like rolling white hillsides. Image: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
It’s simple, really. The patients don a VR headset, just as you would to experience VR content. Once active, they are presented with a 3D tranquil scene — snowy white hillsides or Japanese-themed zen gardens. Through this experience they are shown distracting audio and visual stimuli. It helps them cope, primarily because they are focused on something other than the surgery or operation.
The head of St Joseph’s ER department, Doctor Olivier Ganasia, likens the experience to “hypnosis” where the patients are essentially tuned out.
“[VR] enables us to offer patients a technique to distract their attention and curb their pain and anxiety when being treated in the emergency room…I think in 10 years, virtual reality won’t even be a question anymore, and will be used in hospitals routinely.”
VR pain treatment and virtual therapy is still considered experimental, and it will be at least a few years until the research is available to prove its usefulness and potency. If you have ever had the opportunity to experience VR, in any form, then you’ll understand just how immersive and transformative it can be. It’s like entering a whole new world — thanks Aladdin.
At the very least, if they start outfitting hospitals with these things we’ll finally have something to do when we’re sitting around in the waiting room. And since I have another kid on the way, I’d be delighted to find VR installed in my local hospital come delivery time.