The use of virtual reality in medicine can serve to calm pain without the need for local anesthesia.
In this world there are two types of people: those who can see how they inject a syringe and those who cannot. Some people cannot even enter the doctor’s office without feeling dizzy.
When they inject you something, don’t look away
In those cases, the advice that is usually given is always the same; that we look the other way, that we think of other things, or that they distract us in some way. Typically, they can inject or draw blood without us realizing if we are distracted enough.
However, the latest studies show that it is just that, a typical one; and that If you really want to suffer as little as possible, you should see how they prick you. Yes, even if it seems the most unpleasant.
In 2009, this was the conclusion reached by the study by researchers at the University College London; and to reach it, they had to burn many arms. The test consisted of shooting an infrared laser into the skin of the volunteers.Some were forced to watch (a somewhat sadistic exercise, but it is because of science)The rest had to look away at an object in the room.
The surprising result was that those who watched as they were burned felt less pain. A subjective information, but which was confirmed by electrodes, which detected an analgesic effect; Thanks to this, a relationship with weaker activity was discovered in the part of the cerebral cortex dedicated to processing pain.
The illusion of the rubber hand
Although the researchers couldn’t discover why this happened, the research opened doors to other developments. For example, does the same analgesic effect occur if we deceive the mind?
The illusion of the rubber hand is a good example; is a classic experiment in which the patient’s hand is hidden and a rubber hand is put in its place or wood. The investigator then touches the false hand, slowly rising; patients feel the same sensations as if it were their hand, although at no time was his royal hand touched.
This illusion is very curious, because It is stronger when we believe that they will touch us; the brain mixes those expectations with what it sees, and associates them in such a way that it creates sensations that the real hand has not detected.
The researcher Mara Sanchez-Vives, from the University of Barelona, applied the rubber hand experiment to virtual reality; the goal was to check How the false hand position affected pain.
Using virtual reality in medicine to trick our brain
Instead of using rubberized hands, the researchers used virtual reality devices to create the illusion; volunteers see a hand in various positions, some of them different from their real hand.
In the new experiment, the volunteers’ hands were heated with electrodes, which were also applied to the virtual hand; The researchers gradually increased the heat and asked the volunteers when it started to be painful.
Surprisingly, as the virtual hand got closer to the real hand, the volunteers could endure more pain. In other words, if they associated the virtual hand with their own hand, the pain was reduced.
The researchers believe that this occurs because the brain tries to predict the location and intensity of pain before it happens. If we are to be injected and look away, the brain does not know where the puncture occurs and pay more attention; so it hurts more because we will be more focused on the puncture.
By using virtual reality, it is possible to tell the brain exactly where the pain will occur, and to prepare for it.
Based on this, the researchers believe that virtual reality can serve as a therapeutic tool. Virtual reality is no longer strange to doctors, but until now it was used more as a distraction than anything else; the new technique involves using it so that the patient can better bear the pain, or do things that he cannot normally bear.