Cedars-Sinai Study Makes Strong Case for Virtual Reality for Pain Management

Cedars-Sinai VR pain relief study
Image: Samsung

Chronic pain is a major public health challenge. Many hospital patients endure pain every day of their stay. According to a new study, however, virtual reality (VR) may be the answer to this problem. The study conducted by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles showed that VR software resulted in significant pain reduction in hospitalized patients.

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For the study, researchers conducted a randomized comparative-effectiveness trial. The 120 adults in the study were admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for a variety of ailments including orthopedic problems, gastrointestinal diseases and cancer. All of the patients had an average pain score of at least three out of 10 during the 24 hours prior to participating in the study, reports Cedars Sinai.

Half of the patients were given Samsung Gear Oculus headset with a variety of relaxing and meditative experiences to choose from. They were advised to use the headsets three times a day for 10 minutes per session—and as needed for breakthrough pain—over three days.

The other half of the patients were instructed to tune their in-room TVs to the health and wellness channel, which included guided-relaxation content such as yoga and meditation. They also were asked to view the channel three times a day for 10 minutes per session and as needed for breakthrough pain. Several times a day, nurses asked all the patients in the study to rate their pain using the standard zero to 10 scale.

Cedars-Sinai Hospital
Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles (Image: Cedars-Sinai)

The VR group said their pain scores went down by approximately two points; the TV group had about half a point decrease in pain. When only looking at those with severe pain, the VR group scores dropped by about three points; the TV group’s pain decreased by nearly one point.

“Virtual reality is a mind-body treatment that is based in real science,” said lead author Brennan Spiegel, MD, director of Cedars-Sinai’s Health Service Research. “It does more than just distract the mind from pain, but also helps to block pain signals from reaching the brain, offering a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management.”

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Several patients in the study found VR so helpful in managing pain that they are now using it regularly at home. One patient, Joseph Norris, said he has suffered from chronic pain for 30 years after undergoing radiation treatment to his hip and pelvic area. The former U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel took pain medication for 20 years until he began searching for alternative methods.

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.