Study Suggests Virtual Reality Technology Could Help Relieve Chronic Pain

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The Law Of... dealing with chronic pain

A recent study published by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University has suggested that virtual reality (VR) technology that simulates feelings similar to an out of body experience could be used to alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain.

Researchers used VR to provide a full body illusion (FBI)

Looking at the details of the study, Lisa Wright – Associate and Chartered Legal Executive at Simpson Millar – explains the debilitating nature of chronic pain.

Full Body Illusion (FBI)

The study included a number of participants that were suffering from conditions that caused chronic pain, including sufferers of osteoporosis, sciatica, back pain, and fibromyalgia.

Researchers used VR to provide a full body illusion (FBI), which is akin to a virtual out-of-body experience, to discover whether a multisensory response to chronic pain could change the way chronic pain is treated.

Participants used VR headsets to view a virtual body that represented their own, before both synchronous and asynchronous stimulation to their backs and collarbone.

Once the FBI was complete, the strength of the illusion provided by VR technology and the feeling of pain in participants were measured with self-report questionnaires.

Reducing Chronic Pain

On average, participants in the study reported a 37% reduction in the intensity of pain, highlighting that high-level multisensory body representations, in this case VR body illusions, can affect the perception of pain.

Researchers explained their reasoning for the study by pointing to older publications that highlighted that FBIs have a range of effects on a body's physiology, as such they hoped that giving sufferers of chronic pain ownership of a virtual body would help them feel that they are located outside of their own body, in turn reducing the intensity of their pain.

The out of body experiences simulated in this study use a lot of technology that is available to high street consumers, meaning that the body illusion used to reduce the severity of chronic pain could be replicated in a sufferer's own home.

With chronic pain being a somewhat under-represented societal issue, any additional insight or analysis on treating such pain should be welcomed, as Lisa explains:

"Chronic pain has such a debilitating effect on sufferers that there is a huge demand for new research into alternative treatments that could alleviate the intensity of pain for sufferers."

"While there are a number of pain relief options available to sufferers of chronic pain, with NHS Pain Management Centres designed to advise patients on these very options, it is encouraging to see the use of new technology in combatting chronic pain."

"It seems as though this is the first step in a new field of research on the topic and I suspect that the positive results from this study will encourage other researchers to look into the area and submit further analysis on the topic of alternative treatments for chronic pain."


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