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Watching arctic scenes eases burning pain

Immersion in virtual reality scenes of the Arctic helps to relieve intense pain and could hold hope for the treatment of chronic pain.

Scientists from Imperial College London have found that using virtual reality headsets could combat increased sensitivity to pain by immersing people in scenes of icebergs, oceans and icescapes.

Beyond the distracting effect of the visuals, the researchers think that immersing patients in virtual reality may actually trigger the body’s own inbuilt pain-fighting systems – reducing their sensitivity 
to painful stimuli and the intensity of ongoing pain.

“One of the key features of chronic pain is you get increased sensitivity to painful stimuli,” said Dr Sam Hughes from the MSk Lab at Imperial and the first author on the paper. “This means patients’ nerves are constantly ‘firing’ and telling their brain they are in a heightened state of pain. Our work suggests that virtual reality may be interfering with processes in the brain, brainstem and spinal cord, which are known to be key parts of our inbuilt pain-fighting systems.”

Image credit | iStock

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