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Cedars-Sinai Blog

Virtual Reality Offers Real Pain Relief

Dr. Brennan Spiegel uses VR in patient treatment
"We believe virtual reality hijacks the senses, but in a good way," says Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of Health Services Research (left).

The pain relief offered by virtual reality is real, according to a new Cedars-Sinai study, published by JMIR Mental Health.

The study included 100 patients in the hospital who reported pain scores of greater than 3 on a scale of 10. Half the patients were treated with virtual reality, donning goggles that immersed them in relaxing rides through Icelandic scenery or swimming with whales. After using the technology, these patients reported a 24% drop in their pain scores.

The other group of patients watched a standard nature video—relaxing scenes with a soothing music audio track. These patients also reported reduced pain, but with less dramatic results: a 13.2% drop.

"We believe virtual reality hijacks the senses, but in a good way," says Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of Health Services Research. "It creates an immersive distraction that stops the mind from processing pain, offering a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management."

No one knows the exact mechanism that causes the reduction in pain, and pain could rebound after just one short therapy session like those offered in the study. Longer-term pain reduction might require sustained and repeated exposure and more variety in the content of the experience.


"We believe virtual reality hijacks the senses, but in a good way. It creates an immersive distraction that stops the mind from processing pain, offering a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management."


Dr. Spiegel and his team are now conducting a larger trial to measure the impact of VR on the use of pain medications, length of hospital stay, and post-discharge satisfaction scores.

Dr. Spiegel has also been working to offer patients a virtual visit to the place many people most want to be when they're in the hospital: home. A new program helps families place cameras in their homes so patients can have a virtual visit to their own living rooms, bedrooms, breakfast nooks, or backyards.

The virtual reality option offers patients real comfort from their hospital beds until they're ready to go home.