Treating Pain with a Video Game

By Jason Weinstock on November 29, 2012

Many of my clients with very severe injuries must learn to accept that they will live with pain the rest of their lives. After they exhaust all that doctors have to offer and realize that there is no “fix”, these clients either adapt and live reasonably happy and productive lives, or they stay miserable. How individuals adapt and move forward while they feel pain every day is fascinating to me. My job as a lawyer is not to provide medical treatment or medical advice, but I like to share what I learn on this subject.

I was watching the TV program Rock Center with Bryan Williams two weeks ago when a piece came on about a virtual reality video game that was created to distract patients’ brains from sensing pain during painful medical treatments. The show featured a disfigured service man who was severely burned and who had to endure excruciating procedures to treat his burns. The usual opiate medications used to treat pain simply weren’t enough.

The virtual reality video game, called Snow World, had the burn patient wear headphones and a headset to immerse him in a peaceful, snowy landscape where he was required to lob snow balls at penguins and other animals. An MRI of the patient’s brain gave objective proof that the patient was truthful when he said that he felt significantly less pain when he was playing the video game. The show also featured researchers applying a mildly painful heating device to the reporter’s foot before and during her playing the video game. She also was convincing in her statements that her pain was almost eliminated when she was focused on playing the game.

If you would like to learn more about this, here is one link:

I intend to research this further and ask local pain management physicians whether they have any information about using this device to treat chronic pain, and who locally is using it. The University of Washington link above also has research papers on using the game to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, and fear of spiders. Interesting.


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