Effectiveness of mobile virtual reality as a means for pain distraction

Date created: 
Virtual reality, Mobile VR, Cardboard, Chronic pain, Pain distraction, VR games

Immersive Virtual Reality (VR) has been shown to work as a non-pharmacological analgesic by enabling cognitive distraction in acute pain patients, including burn patients, dental patients, and chemotherapy patients. However, little research literature exists on the effectiveness of VR for chronic pain patients who suffer from longer-term pain. This thesis aims at contributing to this research gap regarding VR and chronic pain by examining the viability of Cardboard VR– a Mobile VR device. We have conducted two research studies to understand the effectiveness of Cardboard VR in the management of pain. First, we studied how Cardboard affords immersion and its underlying factors compared to a high-end traditional head-mounted display (HMD) – the Oculus Rift DK2, and, the results showed a lot of promise because the difference between the two HMDs was not significant. Next, we conducted a randomized crossover study in a clinical setting with thirty chronic pain patients to understand Cardboard’s effectiveness in pain distraction. We asked the patients to play a VR game on both Cardboard and Oculus Rift. The study results showed that Cardboard VR, coupled with a smartphone, is capable of reducing the patients’ perceived pain intensity significantly compared to the control (pre-VR) condition. However, despite the early findings from the previous studies, Oculus Rift was found to be considerably more effective with pain patients than both the Cardboard and the control condition. The results of this study encourage future research inquiries of Mobile VR in the management of chronic pain. Mobile VR, because of its affordability and ease of use, shows the potential to become an effective tool for pain management for the patients.

Document type: 
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Diane Gromala
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Interactive Arts and Technology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.Sc.