Virtual reality as an adjunctive non-pharmacologic analgesic for acute burn pain during medical procedures

Ann Behav Med. 2011 Apr;41(2):183-91. doi: 10.1007/s12160-010-9248-7.


Introduction: Excessive pain during medical procedures is a widespread problem but is especially problematic during daily wound care of patients with severe burn injuries.

Methods: Burn patients report 35-50% reductions in procedural pain while in a distracting immersive virtual reality, and fMRI brain scans show associated reductions in pain-related brain activity during VR. VR distraction appears to be most effective for patients with the highest pain intensity levels. VR is thought to reduce pain by directing patients' attention into the virtual world, leaving less attention available to process incoming neural signals from pain receptors.

Conclusions: We review evidence from clinical and laboratory research studies exploring Virtual Reality analgesia, concentrating primarily on the work ongoing within our group. We briefly describe how VR pain distraction systems have been tailored to the unique needs of burn patients to date, and speculate about how VR systems could be tailored to the needs of other patient populations in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia / methods*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Burns / complications
  • Burns / physiopathology
  • Burns / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain Management*
  • User-Computer Interface*