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Using fMRI to Study the Neural Correlates of Virtual Reality Analgesia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2014


Excessive pain during medical procedures, such as burn wound dressing changes, is a widespread medical problem and is especially challenging for children. This article describes the rationale behind virtual reality (VR) pain distraction, a new non-pharmacologic adjunctive analgesia, and gives a brief summary of empirical studies exploring whether VR reduces clinical procedural pain. Results indicate that patients using VR during painful medical procedures report large reductions in subjective pain. A neuroimaging study measuring the neural correlates of VR analgesia is described in detail. This functional magnetic resonance imaging pain study in healthy volunteers shows that the large drops in subjective pain ratings during VR are accompanied by large drops in pain-related brain activity. Together the clinical and laboratory studies provide converging evidence that VR distraction is a promising new non-pharmacologic pain control technique.

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