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Cognitive strategies have received considerable attention in the field of pain management, together with more traditional approaches based on physical interventions and behavior modification. Distraction is a technique that lately has been often studied.
Distraction is based on an individual's limited attention capacity; it diminishes attention aimed to a painful stimulus with a subsequent pain reduction (Wismeijer & Vingerhoets, 2005).
To study the effect of VR as a distraction technique in an experimental pain task.
37 healthy participants were induced pain through two consecutive immersions using the cold-pressor test. All participants went through two experimental conditions: VR and black screen. The order of conditions was counterbalanced and a design of repetitive measures was used.
A virtual environment “Surreal World” was developed based on distraction techniques designed to surprise participants. The effect of VR as a distraction technique was evaluated using objective measures of pain (threshold, tolerance, pain intensity and time estimation) and other cognitive measures (self-efficacy and catastrophic thinking in vivo).
VR significantly decreased tolerance and pain intensity, influenced participants to underestimate the length of immersion. A higher self-efficacy in VR and a lower rumination and helplessness were registered in the pain experience. Thus, VR may help improve the efficacy of cognitive strategies.
The study shows the relevance of VR as an adjunctive method in the treatment of acute pain and allows studying its efficacy in patients with chronic pain.
Attention plays an important rol in pain perception. Focusing attention in pain intensifies the painful experience whereas distraction may decrease its subjective sensation (Eccleston & Crombez, 1999).The purpose of the two studies is to establish the efficacy of distraction by means of VR in the control and reduction of pain using the cold-pressor test. In both studies threshold, tolerance, perceived pain intensity and time estimation were measured.
37 healthy participants were induced pain in two consecutive immersions using the cold-pressor test. The experiment was counterbalanced and all participants went through two experimental conditions: VR (stereoscopic screen) and black screen. A virtual environment “Surreal World” was designed based on distraction of attention techniques. Results showed that VR significantly increased threshold and tolerance, diminished pain intensity and perception of time.
35 healthy participants underwent two consecutive immersions using cold pressor: VR (using the updated version of Surreal World and 3D laptops) and black screen. VR significantly increased the threshold and tolerance, whereas variations in the estimation of time were barely significant.
Differences in the results of the two studies could be accounted for by the immersive effect of the stereoscopic screen. Findings are discussed in relation to previous studies on VR and pain. Results support VR as an adjunctive method in pain treatment and allow proving its efficacy in patients with chronic pain.
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