Could Virtual Reality be the answer?

Fireside Chat
December 16, 2021
2 minutes
Dr. Jordan Tsigarides

We were joined by Dr. Jordan Tsigarides MBBS MRCP MClinEd FHEA. NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow (Rheumatology) and VR Faculty Lead for Postgraduate Education, NNUH, NNUH & UEA to learn more about his research into the subject of immersive experiences and their ability to distract patients from pain enough to help them cope.

Title: The VIPA Study – Investigating Virtual Immersive Experiences in the Management of Chronic Pain

Background: Chronic pain is debilitating and prevalent. Current non-pharmacological management of pain conditions such as Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) are labour intensive to implement and not widely available, especially during the pandemic. There is an urgent need to develop widely adoptable, innovative treatment options for pain cohorts.

Virtual reality (VR) provides an innovative therapeutic tool, immersing users within a three-dimensional, interactive virtual environment with use of a head-mounted display (HMD). Beneficial effects of VR have been demonstrated in acute pain1, with limited studies in chronic pain. Given the variation of available VR technologies, it is vital to investigate the impact of different VR characteristics on acceptability in specific chronic pain cohorts.

The VIPA Study: This study was the product of a 2 year industry-academic collaboration and integration of expertise from multiple fields. It was made possible with over £100k worth of total funding. The VIPA Study recruited patients from NHS trusts suffering from chronic pain/fibromyalgia and investigated the acceptability of a co-designed VR intervention and it’s impact on symptoms. In three feasibility studies, we looked at the use of four VR headsets, two virtual environments and four VR cognitive tasks. We also developed a futuristic brain-computer interface where the VR can be controlled with brainwaves alone!

Results: Preliminary results showed high levels of acceptability across the VR headsets, large reductions in pain (48.2% on McGill Pain Questionnaire Short Form pre-post intervention), and encouraging participant perceptions with 100% agreeing they would be open to the use of VR regularly at home for pain treatment.

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Could Virtual Reality be the answer to universally available alternative to pharmacological management of living with chronic pain?