Many people suffer from acute or chronic pain and one of the most frequently suggested ways to relieve this is to distract yourself from the pain. While some people advocate quiet distraction while others suggest more ‘active’ forms of distraction and a growing body of research shows that computer games may be one solution that combines two concepts that are likely to work: distraction and activity.
Yes, gaming can help reduce pain, but only in conjunction with other interventions.
In a new systematic review, investigators identified 28 studies that examined whether distraction techniques such as computer games can help reduce pain. The results showed that the use of these techniques can be effective in reducing pain — but not on their own. Jian Kong, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Mind-Body Clinical Research at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). “However, we were surprised to find that these games seem to have no effect on pain when used alone.”
Researchers are working to identify the areas of the brain that cause pain.
Pain is a very individual, subjective experience, and it’s difficult for doctors to assess how much pain a patient is having.
While pain can be a good warning sign that something is wrong, it can also become a debilitating condition all on its own.
Researchers are working to identify the areas of the brain that cause pain. Once they do, they hope to find ways to block those signals and help patients with chronic pain.
Chronic pain can be treated using medications or by stimulating nerves with electricity. But researchers are also exploring new treatments, such as computer games that use virtual reality.
Some games may help absorption of other pain relief methods. For example, a study in the Journal of Pain found that participants playing video games had more pain tolerance and lower ratings of pain intensity than those who were reading or listening to music. However, this was only true when they received other forms of treatment at the same time, such as morphine, oxycodone or lidocaine.
The study also found that some people tolerate cold-pressor tests better while playing video games, which means they would potentially be less sensitive to pain.
A 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that playing action video games improved the player’s ability to control their emotions and decreased stress levels. The authors theorized that the ability to focus on a goal would allow players to ignore distractions, including negative emotions and physical discomfort.
People with chronic pain often have a combination of effective and ineffective pain management strategies.
People with chronic pain often have a combination of effective and ineffective pain management strategies. They might take their medication, but they may also smoke or drink alcohol.
They may use distraction to regulate their pain, but those techniques aren’t always available when they need them. And some people might even develop a fear of the pain itself, which can make it worse.
Researchers are exploring virtual reality as a way to help people manage chronic pain. A recent study found that patients who played certain games were able to reduce their levels of anxiety and pain — and in some cases, even gain greater control over their reactions to it.
Beyond distraction, gaming also improves mood, which can reduce pain.
Increasingly, researchers are trying to discover how computer games can be used to help manage pain. The studies have found that playing a game for about 20 minutes a day can reduce the sensation of chronic pain by about 50 percent.
Pain is a complicated phenomenon, and it’s not just about the amount of stimulation. Beyond distraction, gaming also improves mood, which can reduce pain. The participants in the studies got a kick out of playing the games and experienced less pain as a result.
Studies have shown that playing computer games can have a positive impact on many aspects of pain management.
Computer games can be played to distract people from their pain, and they can also divert patients’ attention away from the sights, sounds and smells that might otherwise trigger painful memories.
In one study, researchers found that people with chronic back pain who played a video game for 8 minutes before exercise were able to tolerate more physical activity than those who had not played the game.
Gaming is not a panacea for physical pain.
Researchers have used virtual reality games to distract burn patients from their pain.
A recent study has found that playing computer games can help reduce pain and psychological distress for children undergoing painful medical procedures. The study, published in the journal Pain, also showed that this benefit was stronger for girls than boys.
“Digital technologies are increasingly being used in health care in the hospital setting and these findings are promising,” said co-author Lucie Laflamme, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Brock University in Canada. “This research is important because it shows that the games can be tailored to keep the child’s attention longer and decrease pain perception.”
More research will be needed to determine if digital distraction is effective in reducing a wide range of painful procedures and what effect it has on other outcomes such as medication use, Laflamme said.
Pain is the most common complaint for which people seek medical care. Pain management strategies are generally effective but limited by side effects and/or cost, and there is great need for better long-term therapies. In this study, playing a computer game distracted patients from their pain, just as effectively as morphine while having no strong side effects. A virtual reality device could help people distract themselves from their current pain or anxiousness. It may very well improve the quality of life for many chronic pain sufferers.