01 March 2004

Virtual (reality) analgesia

Add virtual reality to hypnosis and meditation on the list of surprisingly effective techniques for pain control. From the BBC story.

Dr Hunter Hoffman, research fellow at the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, has tested his virtual worlds on victims of burns injuries who suffer excruciating pain during their daily dressing changes which conventional drug therapy fails to control.

Hoffman's virtual worlds, which he calls by names such as SnowWorld or SpiderWorld, are designed to immerse the user so deeply in the virtual experience that their attention is distracted away from the pain.
Mike Robinson, a patient who has undergone the virtual reality treatment, said it helped him to overcome the extreme discomfort he felt when his dressings were changed.

"My pain when the nurse is changing my bandages is consistently extreme," he told BBC News Online.
"But during the time I was in VR, I was pretty much unaware that the nurse was even working on my wound.

"I mean, at some level I knew she was working on me, but I wasn't thinking about it because I was inside that SnowWorld."

Virtual analgesia is founded on the principle of distracting the attentional resources of the brain.

Dr Hoffman believes pain contains a significant psychological element which is why distracting thoughts by virtual reality lends itself so well to pain control

Of course, I'm not surprised that this works since my view predicts that it would (inasmuch as a philosophical view predicts).