Researchers at the University of East Anglia are starting a new project to find out if virtual reality can help manage chronic pain.
Photo credit: University of East Anglia
Up to 50 percent of the UK population lives with chronic pain, and the team will investigate whether new technology delivered through a VR headset can help alleviate their symptoms.
A very futuristic aspect of the study is that the team will use a “brain-computer interface” in which people will learn to control elements of the VR game with just the power of their minds.
Dr. Jordan Tsigarides of UEA’s Norwich Medical School and a rheumatologist at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said, “Virtual Reality is an emerging technology that makes the user fully immersive, interactive and often transformative through the use of a head-mounted device Experience is gaining ad.
“VR appears to flood the brain with a variety of audiovisual signals that appeal to the senses and distract the brain’s attention from processing pain signals.”
“There is currently evidence that VR can significantly alleviate acute pain in people. We want to find out if this type of technology can also help people with chronic pain. “
Working with industry partner Orbital Innovations, the team has developed an innovative new VR program for patients with chronic pain conditions, including fibromyalgia syndrome and chronic pain after knee replacement. It is being tested on patients recruited by the NNUH and Addenbrookes in collaboration with the rheumatology, orthopedics and pain management departments.
Dr. Tsigarides said, “The virtual worlds we have created aim to transport patients into naturalistic, immersive environments, whether they are cruising down a cool, snow-covered river or planting plants in a lush warm forest. With VR, we want to involve patients through challenging and interactive games to learn more about how this technology can restart the brain’s pain networks.
“We’re working with neuroscientists at UEA to study the brain waves of people with chronic pain. This has the potential to enable us to see how this technology works and learn more about the brain function of people with these disorders.
“Moving things with your head sounds like something straight out of a science fiction movie, but with today’s technology, ‘brain-computer interfaces’ are becoming increasingly common in health research. We believe these are exciting new ones Innovation in connection with an immersive VR takes place The experience will “boost” the pain relief that is only observed with VR.
“Given that there are nearly 28 million adults in the UK with chronic pain and we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic, this treatment could be an important future intervention.”
Orbital Innovations has worked to develop a virtual reality technology that can help reduce the effects of chronic pain. This innovative project collaboration with the UEA will break new ground in order to fully exploit the exciting possibilities of this technology for patients in the future. “
Peter Brady, CEO of Orbital Innovations
The project was funded by the British Society of Rheumatology, Action Arthritis, and Orbital Innovations.
Research: Could Virtual Reality Relieve Chronic Pain? 
Video Credit: University of East Anglia