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Attenuation of capsaicin-induced ongoing pain and secondary hyperalgesia during exposure to an immersive virtual reality environment

Hughes, Sam W.*; Zhao, Hongyan; Auvinet, Edouard J.; Strutton, Paul H.

doi: 10.1097/PR9.0000000000000790
General Section: PDF Only

Introduction: There is growing evidence that virtual reality (VR) can be used in the treatment of chronic pain conditions. However, further research is required to better understand the analgesic mechanisms during sensitised pain states.

Objectives: We examined the effects of an immersive polar VR environment on capsaicin-induced ongoing pain and secondary hyperalgesia. We also investigated whether the degree of analgesia was related to baseline conditioned pain modulation (CPM) responses.

Methods: Nineteen subjects had baseline CPM and electrical pain perception (EPP) thresholds measured before the topical application of capsaicin cream. Visual analogue scale ratings were measured to track the development of an ongoing pain state, and EPP thresholds were used to measure secondary hyperalgesia. The effects of a passive polar VR environment on ongoing pain and secondary hyperalgesia were compared with sham VR (ie, 2D monitor screen) in responders to capsaicin (n = 15).

Results: Virtual reality was associated with a transient reduction in ongoing pain and an increase in EPP thresholds in an area of secondary hyperalgesia. Baseline CPM measurements showed a significant correlation with VR-induced changes in secondary hyperalgesia, but not with VR-induced changes in ongoing pain perception. There was no correlation between VR-induced changes in pain perception and VR-induced changes in secondary hyperalgesia.

Conclusion: Virtual reality can reduce the perception of capsaicin-induced ongoing pain and secondary hyperalgesia. We also show that CPM may provide a means by which to identify individuals likely to respond to VR therapy.

The Nick Davey Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom

Corresponding author. Address: The Nick Davey Laboratory, Human Performance Group, Division of Surgery, Department of Surgery and Cancer, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, London W6 8RF, United Kingdom. Tel.: +44 (0)20 331 38837; fax: +44 (0)20 331 38835. E-mail address: (S.W. Hughes).

Sponsorships or competing interests that may be relevant to content are disclosed at the end of this article.

Received May 09, 2019

Received in revised form July 24, 2019

Accepted September 01, 2019

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CCBY), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of The International Association for the Study of Pain.