VR for Pain Distraction

Although our VR experiences are not intended as a medical therapy, there is a rapid increase of scientific publications that evidence the positive impact on, for example, perceived pain. A recent meta-analysis5, reviewing a staggering 299 clinical studies, indicated that participants receiving a VR intervention experienced less pain than about 82% of control group participants.

Virtual reality changes the perception of pain in the brain, thus reducing the suffering we experience. Functional MRI images have demonstrated a significant reduction in pain-related brain activity while using VR6. With repeated virtual reality exposure, the positive effect on pain reduction remains, so it is definitely more than a one-time ‘fun’ experience. More and more scientists suggest that it can help bring pain medication down.

The explanation is as simple as it is promising: qualitative immersion in a different world distracts the mind, and distraction helps reduce the focus on pain7. It is an old, proven method – parents do it all the time, distracting their crying little children with a small gift, a new activity, or a surprise gesture.


People age 65+ living at home with chronic pain


People age 65+ in elderly care facility with chronic pain


People of age 65+ which describe their pain as severe

The strength of the illusion that one is actually in a different world, is important according to scientist. Good immersion combined can bring real relief8. Also science confirms our preference for interactive virtual worlds, as opposed to VR based on photo or video. Adult participants reported a 32% greater reduction in time spent thinking about pain and a 75% greater reduction in affective pain (anxiety and bother) using interactive VR, just like ours9.

All in all, science tells us that VR’s benign distractions are as powerful for pain relief as many other popular psychological interventions for pain. And although our products are not intended as medical pain therapy, the immersiveness of our VR worlds may certainly contribute to distraction from pain!

5 The Effectiveness of Virtual Reality Distraction for Reducing Pain: A Meta-Analysis by Melissa P. Kenney and Leonard S. Milling University of Hartford. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice © 2016 American Psychological Association 2016, Vol. 3, No. 3, 199–210

6 Modulation of thermal pain-related brain activity with virtual reality: evidence from fMRI. Hoffman, H. G., Richards, T. L., Coda, B., Bills, A. R., Blough, D., Richards, A. L., & Sharar, S. R. (2004). NeuroReport, 15(8), 1245–1248. doi:10.1097/01.

7 Psychological factors influencing the effectiveness of virtual reality-based analgesia: A systematic review. Triberti, S., Repetto, C., & Riva, G. (2014). Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Network- ing, 17, 335–345.

8 A randomized, controlled trial of immersive virtual reality analgesia, during physical therapy for pediatric burns. Schmitt Y.S., Hoffman H.G., & Blough D.K., et al. (2011).

9 Interactivity Influences the Magnitude of Virtual Reality Analgesia. Wender et al. 2009. Journal of Cyber Therapy and Rehabilitation react-text: 52 2(1):27-33