Virtual-reality worlds filled with penguins and otters are a promising alternative to pain killers, posted on the business news site Quartz.com on 5-2-17, provides a thorough review of the opioid abuse crisis and alternative, evidence-based treatments for chronic pain, including virtual reality (VR) treatments. The author notes that relaxation training can work well, but requires muti-session training programs, practice between appointments, and “in general life gets in the way” for many pain patients. And, many pain patients don’t want a “program,” and are seeking quicker and easier treatments.
The article reviews the history of research on use of VR treatment for burn patients as “a kind of souped-up distraction” from pain symptoms. Research finds, however, that it is more than just a distraction- it can increase the patient’s sense of control and triggers release of pain-relieving hormones and the relaxation response. The article goes on to review how VR pain treatment has been expended to other pain conditions, the increasingly affordable cost of the equipment ($600 for a sophisticated headset), and the emerging role of pain specialists as “pain trainers” as part of an integrative pain management team.