Could there be a medicine that reduces pain and anxiety, replaces anesthesia in minor surgeries, shortens hospital stays, is non-addictive, and non-invasive, all while saving us all a ton of money? Sounds a little too good to be true, right? But it exists! And maybe, you’ve even given it a try before.

Virtual reality (VR) is more than just a source of entertainment; now, this technology has made its way into healthcare spaces as a cost-effective way to reduce pain! It can be brought anywhere in the world, even the most remote areas, and is able to improve the quality of life for many.

Let’s get into how this all works, shall we?

Image: young girl in a hospital bed wearing a VR headset

Source: Telegraph Creative // Vimeo

Move over addictive and costly medications, there’s new pain management in town.

Instead of inducing a loss of awareness and sensation with anesthesia (a costly procedure for providers and patients) or encouraging people to depend on opioids to manage their pain throughout the day (also expensive, and potentially addicting), VR takes the users on an adventure. One filled with anything they could desire: elephants, beautiful landscapes, swimming with the dolphins, a tour through the inner workings of our brains, and so much more!

But can real pain seriously be decreased by a fake reality? Well, to put it simply: yes.

This idea comes from the notion that pain increases the more we pay attention to it. 1 By immersing us in another world with the use of visual, auditory, and (sometimes) tactile stimuli, virtual reality reduces the number of neurons available to focus on anything happening outside of that experience. And yes, that includes the sensation of pain!

Essentially, it works by distracting us. 2

So, to see one way that this is having huge impacts around the globe, we’re heading to rural Mexico with our friends at Great Big Story. They’re bringing us to the operating room of Dr. José Luis Mosso Vazquez to see how he is using VR to provide pain management, which is easier to access than anesthesia in his area.

If you’d like to travel more of the world with the amazing creators, Great Big Story, check out these videos we’ve curated!

From entertainment to healthcare!

How amazing is it to see that something initially marketed as a new way to game and keep us entertained, has expanded to actually help us? From minor surgeries, helping distract burn victims from their painful bandage changes, providing relief for cancer patients, reducing anxiety and discomfort at the dentist, and performing routine medical procedures (like blood draws), VR is bringing forth a new chapter in the medical experience. 4

And with an opioid epidemic taking approximately 128 lives a day in the United States alone 5, this sort of solution has huge implications. What if, instead of being sent home with a bottle of pills, you were prescribed 10 minutes of flying over Iceland or the Sahara Desert three times a day to help manage your pain? 6 How could that impact people, and their loved ones, in the long run?

There’s just so much possible when we look at what we have, then bring it into new spaces. Virtual reality dominated gaming spaces, and now it’s proving to have real-life applications! To explore a few of the other fascinating ways people are embracing VR to save lives, improve care, and even discover how these devices work, check out these next articles!

8 minutes

How Virtual Reality is Changing Healthcare

This device out of Stanford is saving lives by helping both families and medical experts understand what's happening with Congenital Heart Defects.

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10 minutes

Virtual Reality Isn’t Just for the Kids!

The potential for virtual reality systems is making its way into some unexpected corners, and it may even have the power to change lives! Here's one function it performs that most of us have never considered!

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28 minutes

What’s the Deal with Virtual Reality?

Talk about virtual reality feels like it's everywhere, but why all the hype? Today we explore why VR may be the next big thing, and what's going on in our brains to make these digital worlds so real (and fun)!

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So, what do you say, will you be asking for a VR headset the next time you see your doctor?

It’s so exciting to see all of the ways technology is being used to make healthcare more accessible and comfortable for people around the globe. I can’t wait to see what’s next, can you?

Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” —Albert Einstein

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Notes:

  1. Li, Angela, et al. “Virtual Reality and Pain Management: Current Trends and Future Directions.” Pain Management, vol. 1, no. 2, Mar. 2011, pp. 147–157, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3138477/, 10.2217/pmt.10.15. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.
  2. Castaneda, Ruben. “How Virtual Reality Can Help Treat Chronic Pain.” US News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 2019, health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2019-01-14/how-virtual-reality-can-help-treat-chronic-pain. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.
  3. Great Big Story. “How Virtual Reality Helps Surgery Patients in Rural Mexico.” YouTube, 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4wDEXF1_ec&feature=emb_title. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.
  4. Li, Angela, et al. “Virtual Reality and Pain Management: Current Trends and Future Directions.” Pain Management, vol. 1, no. 2, Mar. 2011, pp. 147–157, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3138477/, 10.2217/pmt.10.15. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.
  5. Understanding the Epidemic. 2020, www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.
  6. Ries, Julia. “Study Finds Virtual Reality Can Help Reduce Severe Pain.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 14 Aug. 2019, www.healthline.com/health-news/vr-can-help-treat-severe-pain. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.

Sam Burns

Editor in Chief

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and procurer of cheeses.