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Virtual reality can support 7 different medical conditions.
by
October 26, 2022
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7 Medical Conditions Virtual Reality is Helping to Treat

1. Chronic Pain 

Pain management remains a core therapeutic area for VR. Researchers have found that if you flood the neural pathways with alternate signals, patients can potentially feel less pain. This has heightened importance as the key alternate treatment, opioids, has only moderate efficacy, but severe side effects including the risk of addiction.  

Applied VR received FDA De Novo clearance in 2021 for its VR therapeutic for chronic lower back pain. A pivotal study earlier this year showed an 8-week treatment cycle reduced pain intensity over 6 months, compared with a sham app. 

Jolly Good are studying VR therapy for chronic pain in Japan. The research targets people with complex regional pain syndrome, post-stroke pain, and other pain-induced conditions.

2. Procedural Pain

VR can be effective at improving a patient’s experience when having a medical procedure, either by reducing anxiety before the procedure or reducing pain during the procedure.

A recent study found patients using virtual reality while undergoing hand surgery required less anesthesia during surgery.

A VR pain management intervention worked as well as guided imagery among children and young adults undergoing unsedated procedures, according to another study.

3. Anxiety & Phobias 

Virtual reality can be a powerful weapon against anxiety. It can directly target the anxiety triggers, offer a source of distraction, provide education, coping skills training, and behavioral therapy. 

BehaVR has partnered with Sumitomo Pharma to use VR across a range of mental health conditions. One of these is Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) which is estimated to affect 7% of the US population, and the other is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). 

Gradually exposing patients to their fears and phobias through a range of social scenarios in a safe virtual environment under the guidance of a therapist, can help them overcome their fears in the real world. 

A recent study found that patients who had VR therapy in addition to their standard care had a significant reduction in agoraphobic avoidance and distress compared to their peers who just received the usual care.

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4. Depression 

VR is also being explored in depression, being used as a vehicle to cause shifts in mood and deliver cognitive behavioral therapy.  

Technology firm Jolly Good is partnering with  Teijin Pharma to develop virtual reality digital therapeutics for major depressive disorder (MDD).

A clinical trial is underway exploring VR to improve psychological treatment for young people with depression. The system uses a prior interview to transform the meanings and important people in the individual's identity into a 3D space in the form of spheres and words.  

5. Neuro-Rehabilitation 

VR is being explored across a range of neurological conditions. 

The Cleveland Clinic has developed an immersive virtual reality experience that uses VR software to treat freezing of gait, which is often a major problem in Parkinson’s disease.

VR is being explored in the rehabilitation of Multiple Sclerosis patients in combination with traditional exercises, to improve cognition and daily functioning.

Neuro Rehab VR use virtual reality to rehabilitate patients who have suffered strokes or traumatic brain injuries. 

6. Dementia Care

VR has a range of potential uses to help patients with dementia.

Researchers are exploring whether VR can help prevent Alzheimers by making people feel less lonely. 

A study in the UK found that VR could help people with dementia recall old memories.

Virtual reality can promote wellbeing in persons with dementia according to this study. It is being explored to help dementia patients virtually travel the world, to improve wellbeing, and hopefully to recall old memories. 

7. Vision Correction 

A VR treatment for amblyopia, sometimes known as lazy eye, has been shown to improve vision correction over standard therapy in a trial

The DTx called Luminopia One, treats amblyopia by getting people with the condition to watch specially modified TV shows and movies using a virtual reality headset designed to promote use of the weaker eye. 

Dopavision is combining the use of a smartphone app with a VR headset to treat Myopia in children. The treatment is currently being trialed.  

While most VR studies and use cases focus on the important areas of mental health and chronic pain, the range of possible use cases is highly diverse and expanding. There are other areas being explored that could not be covered here including PTSD, IBD, Autism, Obesity, Tinnitus, Schizophrenia, Addiction and more.

Key to success of VR treatments will be getting the technology into the hands of the patients who are both willing and able to use it. 

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About the author

Gary Monk

Digital health thought leader, writer, and speaker.

See all articles by this author
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