Living with Chronic Pain

Virtual Reality (VR) for Pain Management


What is virtual reality for pain management?

Virtual reality (VR) is an alternative treatment option for pain management. It involves technology to develop behavioral techniques, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or guided imagery, that reduce pain levels. Distraction from pain is provided through the close-proximity screen of the headset, or goggles. A 360 degree view of a virtual, three-dimensional environment, with realistic sound, allows the user to experience being in another place, while remaining in the comfort of the home.

How does VR work?

Virtual reality distracts the mind from pain and blocks pain signals from reaching the brain by capturing the mind’s attention as the user is transported into a “virtual world.” Users can interact in a new, three-dimensional environment and learn how to soothe the nervous system through therapy and relaxation.

When used to reduce chronic pain, the narrator will guide individuals with breathing exercises, redirecting negative thoughts, and learning how pain responses work. VR can include mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, guided imagery, and meditation to control pain, stress, depression, anxiety and fear. Depression, anxiety and stress increase pain; however, VR can reduce these negative emotions.

Roller coasters can be ridden virtually to encounter thrills without harming the body. The beautiful sky can be explored in order to experience peace. Sitting at an ocean beach while listening to the waves crash can make worries disappear. Helicopter rides or car races can be experienced, which may be unrealistic to physically achieve due to chronic pain.

Benefits of VR for pain management

Virtual reality has many benefits for pain management. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Reduced pain
  • Decreased stress, anxiety and depression
  • Diminished need for pharmaceuticals
  • Low-risk side effects as opposed to other treatment solutions
  • Increased skill knowledge to manage pain
  • Faster surgery recovery

Does insurance cover VR devices?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized marketing of specific prescription-use immersive virtual reality (VR) systems to reduce pain for those 18 years of age and older that are diagnosed with chronic lower back pain. The approved brands may be covered by some insurance companies; however, there are many VR devices for pain management that are not yet FDA approved. Individuals need to confirm coverage with their insurance carrier.

VR devices can be purchased online or through some private physical therapy practices. The price typically begins at approximately $300. Meditation programs can be downloaded; however, they will not have the same educational guidance for pain reduction as those that are approved by the FDA.

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