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Interactive Virtual Reality Reduces Quadriceps Pain during High-Intensity Cycling


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 2019 - Volume 51 - Issue 10 - p 2088–2097
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002016

Purpose Brief, high-intensity cycling is popular because physiological benefits accrue with a short workout time, but burning pain in the quadriceps is a potential barrier to engaging in this type of exercise. Virtual reality (VR) can temporarily decrease pain, but its effect on muscle pain during high-intensity exercise is unknown. The primary purpose of this experiment was to test whether adding interactive VR (I-VR) to high-intensity cycling could reduce quadriceps pain or improve performance.

Methods Ninety-four adults who were physically active in their leisure time and age 18 to 29 yr completed three 30-s sprint interval cycling trials at a high resistance (0.085- and 0.075-kg resistance to the flywheel per kilogram body weight for men and women, respectively). In this randomized between-subject experiment, participants cycled while wearing a head-mounted display and viewing either (i) a dynamically changing cityscape perceived as interactively cycling through a virtual city (I-VR group) or (ii) a static picture of the cityscape with instructions to mentally imagine cycling through that city (static VR/motor imagery control group).

Results Sphericity-adjusted 2 × 3 (group–time) ANOVA revealed a significant group–time interaction (F = 4.568; df = 1.499, 133.301; ηp2 = 0.047, P = 0.021) for pain intensity. With I-VR, pain intensities were 13.3% (mean, 4.60 vs 5.31; d = 0.28) and 11.8% (mean, 5.68 vs 6.44; d = 0.27) lower at sprint trials 2 and 3, respectively. The group–time interaction (P = 0.412) was not significant for total work.

Conclusion Compared with a static VR/motor imagery control condition, I-VR during brief, high-intensity, fatigue-inducing leg cycling attenuates quadriceps pain intensity without reducing performance.

1Department of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

2Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Address for correspondence: Carly L. A. Wender, B.S., Department of Kinesiology, Ramsey Center, Room 102-A, 330 River Road, Athens, GA 30602-6554; E-mail:

Submitted for publication January 2019.

Accepted for publication April 2019.

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Online date: April 26, 2019

© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine