Virtual Reality (VR) has brought an unprecedented revolution in the technology pushing the boundaries of human imagination and perception. With the computer-generated simulations, VR has opened gateways to the new dimensions offering a real-time interaction with the digital world. From gaming and entertainment to enhancing educational experiences, virtual reality has found many useful applications in various fields of life.

But who knew that this ground-breaking invention originally created for fun and entertainment could also be put into use for therapeutic purposes!

Yes, you have read right!

Virtual reality has shown some promising results in mitigating chronic pains that are difficult to treat. By understanding the psychology of pain, scientists have been able to manipulate the human senses with the help of VR creating a sense of relief from these annoying discomforts.

This article talks about the potential applications of virtual reality in the chronic pain management and understanding the mechanism behind it.

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain refers to suffering or discomfort that lasts for a protracted period of time, usually longer than the predicted recovery time. Unlike acute pain, which is a short-term defensive response to injury or illness, chronic pain can last for weeks, months, or even years. It can be caused by a variety of medical diseases, injuries, or disorders and has a substantial influence on a person’s quality of life.

Chronic pain is one of the most distressing health issues in the world affecting people in one form or another. It can range from a simple headache and migraine to some serious ones, including severe lower backache, arthritic pains of joints, neuropathies, neuralgias, or pains in the advanced stages of cancer which not only affect the quality of life but also limit your day-to-day activities. Mostly, there is an underlying pathology but some physiogenic pains also exist having no apparent organic cause.

Virtual Reality (VR) has proven its pledge in the realm of chronic pain management by creating a realistic and engaging atmosphere in which people may cope with and relieve their pain.

(Also read our blog on How to Deal with Chronic Pain)

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) is a computerized representation of a three-dimensional space that may be interacted with in a supposedly real or physical manner by a person wearing appropriate electronic equipment, such as a headset with a screen or gloves equipped with sensors.1 In a virtual reality environment, users can feel as if they are present in a digital or fictional world that is often apart from reality.

Virtual Serenity – Potential Use of Virtual Reality (VR) in Chronic Pain Management

VR enables users to explore and swap locations without physically leaving. Once you put on a VRheadset,youvirtuallyenteranewdimension.Forexample,whileenjoyingonlinegames.VR transforms our experience of reality, influencing how we feel and think. It excites our vision, takesoverthebrain,anddevelopsasensationofpsychologicalexistence.

Suddenly, you can be diving with dolphins, having fun on a beach, floating into space, or admiring nature.

Understanding the Psychology of Pain Perception and Virtual Medicine

In 1977, George Engel, a psychiatry and medicine professor at the University of Rochester, advocated that clinicians consider not only a mechanistic interpretation of sickness, but also the emotional component of illness.2 This notion has since opened the door for VR to grow into a viable therapeutic technique.

Matthew Botvinick and Jonathan Cohen performed the “rubber hand experiment”, which created an appealing illusion of shifting the body’s ownership from one’s genuine arm to an unreal arm. They discovered that we can trick the brain into accepting a phoney body.3

Similarly, Henrik Ehrsson conducted another “Phantom body illusion” study, which proved the so-called out-of-body experience, in which a person observes his or her own body from outside the physical body.4, 5

These strategies have been put into use enabling the VR to divert people’s attention and consciousness creating a sense of relief from their chronic pains.

Brennan Spiegel, a prominent physician reveals the game-changing potentials of virtual medicine. In his book, VRx: How Virtual Therapeutics Will Revolutionize Medicine’, published in Oct 6, 2020, he has stated the facts that VR educates us about consciousness and the manner in which the brain and body are linked.

He further added that VR is similar to a syringe in which the medicine that passes through it is more important than the syringe itself. VR is simply a medium; what matters is the programme that allows people to immerse themselves in an entirely new world.

While giving examples, he proposed that virtual reality could be used for assisting women with childbirth. People waiting in the emergency department could find themselves on a beach instead of stressing out in the hallway.6 These are only two of countless examples. There are over 200 hospitals in the United States and many more across the world that use virtual reality for various purposes.

How Does Virtual Reality Help in Alleviating Chronic Pain?

Virtual Reality helps in diverting the brain’s attention from noxious impulses emanating from the body. It also causes the sense of time acceleration, which significantly reduces the duration of pain.

Besides, nips prevent pain from entering the brain by inhibiting impulses in the bud. The combination of these factors strengthens immersion’s capability to resist pain.7

Patients experiencing difficult medical procedures or operations can benefit from virtual reality by engaging them in a relaxing environment or offering guided relaxation experiences.

Potential Applications of Virtual Reality in Chronic Pain Management

Virtual Reality (VR) has shown potential benefits in the treatment of chronic pain. Incorporating VR into pain management procedures can give an innovative and successful strategy to alleviating symptoms and improving overall well-being for people suffering from chronic pain.

Virtual reality can help in the management of chronic pain through following ways;

  • VR can be an effective distraction tool, taking the user’s focus away from painful 8
  • VR can be utilized to deliver cognitive-behavioral therapy procedures creating imitate circumstances allowing patients to practice coping methods in a safe and guided 9
  • VR enables people to relax and practice
  • Individuals can alleviate stress, anxiety, and discomfort by immersing themselves in peaceful environmentss that include guided meditation and breathing exercises.
  • Customized virtual worlds can encourage patients to participate in therapeutic exercises, increasing their ability to move while reducing discomfort.
  • Biofeedback methods can be built into VR systems to provide precise information on physiological characteristics including heart rate, conductivity of skin, and muscular tension, enabling people to modulate their physiological responses to pain and
  • VR can be used to evaluate and track pain levels by designing virtual scenarios that trigger certain pain responses.
  • VR has been useful in treating pain from phantom limbs by giving visual and sensory feedback, enabling patients to “feel” and “move” their lost limb in virtual space.

Bottom Line

Virtual Reality (VR) has shown potential application in chronic pain management, leveraging immersive experiences to distract, relax, and empower individuals in their journey towards pain relief. With applications ranging from cognitive-behavioral therapy to biofeedback, VR can not only transforms perceptions of pain but also offers a novel approach to enhancing overall well-being.


  1. Daniel Paes a Investigating the relationship between three-dimensional perception and presence in virtual reality-reconstructed architecture. science direct. 2023 jan 13.
  2. Smith George Engel’s Contribution to Clinical Psychiatry. sage journals.
  3. Cohen MB&J. Rubber hands ‘feel’ touch that eyes 1988 feb 19.
  4. Schmalzl L, Thomke E, Ragnö C, Nilseryd M, Stockselius A, Ehrsson HH. “Pulling telescoped phantoms out of the stump”: Manipulating the perceived position of phantom limbs using a full-body illusion. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2011 Nov 1;5:121.
  5. Ehrsson Sustained rubber hand illusion after the end of visuotactile stimulation with a similar time course for the reduction of subjective ownership and proprioceptive drift. springer link. .
  6. Brennan Spiegel Virtual reality for management of pain in hospitalized patients: A randomized comparative effectiveness trial. 2019 aug 14.
  7. Diana Gromala The Virtual Meditative Walk: Virtual Reality Therapy for Chronic Pain Management.
  8. Kevin Malloy LSM. The effectiveness of virtual reality distraction for pain reduction: A systematic review. Science Direct. 2010 july 13.
  9. Matthew J. McGirt MD a CMHMPaSHFMbSLZMMcMSSMdNTMeDPPaGSM. Remote cognitive behavioral therapy utilizing an in-home virtual reality toolkit (Vx Therapy) reduces pain, anxiety, and depression in patients with chronic cervical and lumbar spondylytic pain. 2023 nov 14.
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