Virtual reality as an adjunctive pain control during burn wound care in adolescent patients

Pain. 2000 Mar;85(1-2):305-9. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3959(99)00275-4.


For daily burn wound care procedures, opioid analgesics alone are often inadequate. Since most burn patients experience severe to excruciating pain during wound care, analgesics that can be used in addition to opioids are needed. This case report provides the first evidence that entering an immersive virtual environment can serve as a powerful adjunctive, nonpharmacologic analgesic. Two patients received virtual reality (VR) to distract them from high levels of pain during wound care. The first was a 16-year-old male with a deep flash burn on his right leg requiring surgery and staple placement. On two occasions, the patient spent some of his wound care in VR, and some playing a video game. On a 100 mm scale, he provided sensory and affective pain ratings, anxiety and subjective estimates of time spent thinking about his pain during the procedure. For the first session of wound care, these scores decreased 80 mm, 80 mm, 58 mm, and 93 mm, respectively, during VR treatment compared with the video game control condition. For the second session involving staple removal, scores also decreased. The second patient was a 17-year-old male with 33.5% total body surface area deep flash burns on his face, neck, back, arms, hands and legs. He had difficulty tolerating wound care pain with traditional opioids alone and showed dramatic drops in pain ratings during VR compared to the video game (e.g. a 47 mm drop in pain intensity during wound care). We contend that VR is a uniquely attention-capturing medium capable of maximizing the amount of attention drawn away from the 'real world', allowing patients to tolerate painful procedures. These preliminary results suggest that immersive VR merits more attention as a potentially viable form of treatment for acute pain.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Burns / complications*
  • Computer Graphics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Measurement
  • User-Computer Interface*