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Posted by samriddhitlg on February 3rd, 2020

VR for a long time now has been marketed as an escape from reality. In numerous cases, this has been structured in almost dystopian terms, with futurists predicting an era where many of us will choose hanging out in highly perfect virtual worlds over trying to improve the flawed real world. However, it is encouraging to observe that most of the practical applications of VR have been aimed at socially laudable objectives.

But, when the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff announced that it had begun a trial in which VR headsets would be given to women in labor it was emphasized again. The purpose here is to numb the unenviable pains of childbirth, which prompt at least 50% of women who give birth in the U.S. each year to opt for an epidural. Yet, the VR headsets will be used to relax women in the early stages of labor, doing so by immersing them in a variety of peaceful environments rather than directly reducing pain by blocking nerve impulses.

These include a beach, an open landscape illuminated by the aurora borealis, an underwater scene, and also a prairie inhabited by a grazing herd of buffalo. By presenting women with such enveloping, 360-degree experiences the VR software not only distracts them from the pangs and discomforts of labor but also helps induce the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters that directly relieve pain.

The results have been confirmed by clinical studies. For instance, researchers conducted in January at the University of Arizona Phoenix and the University Medical Center Phoenix found that “77% of patients using VR during labor reported that it helped them experience less pain.”

Similarly, a range of researchers publishing in the Anesthesia & Analgesia journal concluded that “Significant decreases in sensory pain, cognitive pain, and anxiety were observed during VR.”

In the context of pain management added to the clinical support for VR, there is also plenty of anecdotal and personal evidence testifying to its abilities. It has formerly found application helping people encounter sickle cell disease, back pain, anxiety, burns, surgery pains, and various other kinds of chronic pain, aside from its emerging use in childbirth.

This excellent start for VR clarifies that in the years to come it will be increasingly used in managing pain. This will not only be in specific medical and clinical settings, but also in the home, as around 20% of Americans live with chronic pain, while around 8% live with more severe varieties. Simultaneously, the fact that even video games have been found to ease pain (which are already enormously popular) indicates that many people will end up palliating themselves even without realizing it, making VR-based video games particularly addictive.

Still, while this might suggest that we could end up in the bizarre situation where people, in order to relieve themselves of recurring pains, become dependent on VR games which would certainly be preferable to a dependence on opioids. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, each year over two million Americans currently misappropriate prescription opioids, while there were around 20,000 deaths in 2016 caused by overdosing on such drugs.

The more widespread use of VR for pain relief can’t come soon enough for such reasons. However, virtual reality generally remains an expensive medium though there is an increasing number of companies launching that offer VR-based pain management (e.g. applied VR, Firsthand Technology, and CognifiSense). By the end of 2019, only 8.9 million VR headsets are forecast to have been sold in total, highlighting how the technology remains out of reach of the vast majority of us.

It is clearly only a matter of time before many of us will be entering serene virtual worlds, in order to escape the more painful realities of our bodies given the early success and potential of VR.


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Joined: February 3rd, 2020
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