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Video games, virtual reality experiences could relieve pain in kids, adults

By Teronpi
|

Washington, May 9 (ANI): The next time your kids complain of pain, tell them to go and play a video game, suggest scientists.

They claim that when children and adults with acute and chronic pain become immersed in video game action, they receive some analgesic benefit.

And pain researchers reported that virtual reality is proving to be effective in reducing anxiety and acute pain caused by painful medical procedures and could be useful for treating chronic pain.

"Virtual reality produces a modulating effect that is endogenous, so the analgesic influence is not simply a result of distraction but may also impact how the brain responds to painful stimuli. The focus is drawn to the game not the pain or the medical procedure, while the virtual reality experience engages visual and other senses," said Dr. Jeffrey I. Gold, associate professor of anaesthesiology and paediatrics, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California.

He noted that the exact mechanistic/neurobiological basis responsible for the VR analgesic effect of video games is unknown, but a likely explanation is the immersive, attention-grabbing, multi-sensory and gaming nature of VR.

These aspects of VR may produce an endogenous modulatory effect, which involves a network of higher cortical (e.g., anterior cingulate cortex) and subcortical (e.g., the amygdale, hypothalamus) regions known to be associated with attention, distraction and emotion.

Thus, studies measuring the benefit of virtual reality pain management have employed experimental pain stimuli, such as thermal pain and cold pressure tests, to turn pain responses on and off as subjects participate in virtual reality experiences.

"In my current NIH-funded study, I am using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the effects of VR on experimental pain. The objective is to measure the cortical regions of interest involved in VR, while exposing the participant to video racing games with and without experimental pain stimuli," explained Gold.

Dr. Lynnda M. Dahlquist, reviewed her most recent laboratory research studies examining the use of virtual reality and other computer/videogame technologies to provide distraction-based acute pain management.

The use of video games and virtual reality distraction (VRD) technology for procedural pain management in both pre-schoolers and elementary to middle school children, yielded promising results in increasing pain tolerance "with potentially significant future clinical applications for more effective pain reduction techniques for youth with chronic and acute pain.

"However, more research is needed to know for certain if there is real world VRD application in such pain-generating procedures as cleansing wounds, cancer treatment, immunization, injections and burn care," said Dahlquist.

Children interacting with a virtual environment by watching video games demonstrated a small pain tolerance improvement during exposure to ice cold water stimulation, added Dahlquist.

But she recorded significantly greater pain tolerance for kids wearing specially-equipped video helmets when they actually interacted with the virtual environment.

The study was presented at the American Pain Society's annual scientific meeting. (ANI)

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