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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Virtual reality can transport our minds to incredible digital worlds. Now researchers are using the technology to help patients escape their pain during difficult procedures.
Kevin Walsh found relief from his pain by immersing his mind in a 360-degree world of snow and ice. His back was severely burned in a small explosion at work.
“There is one time when I did it doing wound care. They have to peel off my bandages while I’m there, and they peeled off a couple bandages and I didn’t even really notice,” said Walsh.
Walsh is one of a number of patients at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle using virtual reality to help manage pain.
“It’s a means to pull people’s attention away from very painful procedures,” said Dr. David Patterson with the UW School of Medicine.
Dr. Patterson has helped pioneer the technique. He says virtual reality distracts the brain, so there’s less focus on the pain.
“The areas of the brain that light up with pain light up less and they’re just not processing as much,” said Dr. Patterson.
Patterson uses a game called ‘Snow World.’ Using virtual reality goggles, patients hit targets with snowballs, taking their minds off their procedures.
“Overall we’re seeing 35% reductions in pain is pretty typical, where you see somebody’s pain drop from severe to moderate,” said Hunter Hoffman with the UW Human Photonics Lab.
For patients like Walsh, any relief from the pain can help on the road to recovery.
Researchers believe the technique can be used for other patients like dental procedures and childbirth.
Doctors are also using virtual reality to help hypnotize patients before procedures to help reduce anxiety levels.