For those suffering from chronic debilitating pain, everyday life can become a struggle. The constant discomfort and loss of independence often leads to secondary mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and isolation.
VR gaming is emerging as an engaging way for chronic pain patients to temporarily "escape" their situation and improve their outlook and quality of life.
Research studies have shown VR to be effective at reducing pain levels. In one randomised controlled trial of hospitalised patients, VR gaming led to greater reductions in pain scores compared to a control group. The immersive, interactive environment draws attention away from the pain and makes the experience less distressing.
Additionally, VR games can motivate patients to move in ways they may have avoided due to pain. One pilot study in fibromyalgia patients found VR exercisers reported significant reductions in pain-related anxiety and kinesiophobia following VR activity sessions. This demonstrates potential to overcome fear of movement that often develops with chronic pain.
The social connection and sense of achievement provided by multiplayer VR games can also address the isolation and loss of self-esteem many patients experience.
Research on VR for burn recovery found the excitement of immersive gameplay increased engagement in rehabilitation exercises and improved mood.
While more research is still needed, VR appears promising to help transport chronic pain patients to an absorbing virtual environment where they can feel empowered, accomplished, and connected.
This mental health boost gives patients a valuable respite and renewed optimism to cope with their pain long-term.
Providers may consider integrating VR gaming into pain and rehabilitation programs for motivating patients and improving outcomes.