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Virtual reality as an analgesic for acute and chronic pain in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Authors Mallari B, Spaeth EK, Goh H, Boyd BS

Received 5 January 2019

Accepted for publication 8 May 2019

Published 3 July 2019 Volume 2019:12 Pages 2053—2085


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Michael Schatman

Brian Mallari,1 Emily K Spaeth,2 Henry Goh,3 Benjamin S Boyd4

1Department of Physical Therapy, St. Mary’s Medical Center, San Francisco, CA, USA; 2Castro Valley Yoga, Castro Valley, CA, USA; 3Department of Physical Therapy, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, CA, USA; 4Department of Physical Therapy, Samuel Merritt University, Oakland, CA, USA

Background: Previous studies have shown that virtual reality (VR) is effective in reducing acute and chronic pain both in adults and in children. Given the emergence of new VR technology, and the growing body of research surrounding VR and pain management, an updated systematic review is warranted.
Purpose: The purpose of this systematic review is to compare the effectiveness of VR in reducing acute and chronic pain in adults.
Data Sources: A search was conducted in three databases (PubMed, CINAHL, Trip) using standardized search terms.
Study Selection: Twenty experimental and quasi-experimental trials published between January 2007 and December 2018 were included based on prespecified inclusion and exclusion criteria. Pain intensity was the primary outcome.
Data Extraction: We extracted data and appraised the quality of articles using either the PEDro or Modified Downs and Black risk of bias tools.
Data Synthesis: The majority of studies supported the use of VR to reduce acute pain both during the procedure and immediately after. Numerous studies found VR reduced chronic pain during VR exposure but there is insufficient evidence to support lasting analgesia. There was considerable variability in patient population, pain condition and dosage of VR exposure.
Limitations: Due to heterogeneity, we were unable to perform meta-analyses for all study populations and pain conditions.
Conclusions: VR is an effective treatment for reducing acute pain. There is some research that suggests VR can reduce chronic pain during the intervention; however, more evidence is needed to conclude that VR is effective for lasting reductions in chronic pain.

Keywords: virtual reality, analgesia, acute, chronic, pain management, adult

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