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  • Teresa Umali

Can virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) be used to treat chronic pain?

Can virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) be used to treat chronic pain? Swinburne University of Technology, in Australia, investigates how by conducting a novel research.

According to a recent press release, a team of researchers from the University is collaborating with a health partner to examine how people with chronic lower back pain interact with VR in the University’s state-of-the-art Virtual Reality Theatre.

Background of the study

The project, led by Department Chair of Health and Medical Sciences, Associate Professor Rachael McDonald, aims to identify the types of people who will respond well to VR and AR therapy as a pain treatment.

The lead researcher explained that chronic pain needs to be addressed from a number of areas, both physically and psychologically.

Their goal is to discover what affects people’s experience in VR and AR and what will help or hinder their engagement in the program.

Motion capture suits will initially assess the quality of movement of the participants. After which, they will interact with VR through two existing programs.

Further developments will be done to the program after asking the participants’ thoughts on the experience in order to address their needs.

Working with a multidisciplinary team

Experts from a range of fields such as anatomy, physiotherapy, interactive media, and astrophysics are needed to support the study.

Researchers from across the university will be contributing their expertise to the study.

Their fields include Interactive Media, Exercise and Sports Science, Human Medical Anatomy, Astrophysics and Supercomputing, VR, Digital Health and Informatics, and Physiotherapy, among others.

Advancing health research

Swinburne and its health industry partner have several strategic collaborations between them and this project is just one of them.

This project belongs to a three-year partnership supporting the health and wellbeing of the Swinburne community.

The company’s Chief Medical Officer is proud to partner with the University on this milestone project.

This is an exciting step forward in exploring the use of alternative treatments for chronic pain, which affects more than 20% of the Australian population.

Desired outcomes of the research

Hopefully, the study will allow the team to develop technology that can be used in further research into VR and chronic pain.

Ideally, the project will eventually be applied in a clinical environment.

Using VR and AR as a distraction for acute pain is increasingly being used as a technique, but what is more innovative is the ability to intervene in chronic pain.

The team aims to produce evidence, for the first time, on the type of person that will or will not respond to VR and AR therapy to address their chronic pain.

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