The pain experienced by burn patients during physical therapy range of motion exercises can be extreme and can discourage patients from complying with their physical therapy. We explored the novel use of immersive virtual reality (VR) to distract patients from pain during physical therapy.
This study was conducted at the burn care unit of a regional trauma center.
Twelve patients aged 19 to 47 years (average of 21% total body surface area burned) performed range of motion exercises of their injured extremity under an occupational therapist's direction.
Each patient spent 3 minutes of physical therapy with no distraction and 3 minutes of physical therapy in VR (condition order randomized and counterbalanced).
Five visual analogue scale pain scores for each treatment condition served as the dependent variables.
All patients reported less pain when distracted with VR, and the magnitude of pain reduction by VR was statistically significant (e.g., time spent thinking about pain during physical therapy dropped from 60 to 14 mm on a 100-mm scale). The results of this study may be examined in more detail at www.hitL.washington.edu/projects/burn/.
Results provided preliminary evidence that VR can function as a strong nonpharmacologic pain reduction technique for adult burn patients during physical therapy and potentially for other painful procedures or pain populations.