The Effectiveness of Virtual Reality Distraction for Reducing Pain: A Meta-Analysis

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Virtual reality uses computer technology to immerse the individual in a multisensory, 3-dimensional environment. This meta-analysis is the first to quantify the effect of virtual reality distraction on pain. To be included in the meta-analysis, studies were required to use a between-subjects or mixed-model design in which virtual reality distraction was compared with a control condition in reducing pain. Of the 299 records screened, 14 studies met the inclusion criteria. The mean weighted effect size for virtual reality distraction was .90, indicating that the average participant receiving this intervention showed more improvement than about 82% of control participants. Virtual reality distraction was more effective in reducing experimental than clinical pain and when used with adults versus children. However, there was no difference in the relief produced by computer software developed specifically for virtual reality distraction and commercial games with a 3-dimensional environment. The findings of the meta-analysis suggest that virtual reality distraction is a highly effective pain intervention. More research is needed on the application of this intervention to chronic pain, as well as the role of presence and fun as moderator variables. Clinicians may wish to consider virtual reality distraction as a promising treatment choice for patients who suffer from pain.

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