Douglas Suffield, MAcOM, DiplOM, LAc, is a pain education specialist working with PAMI on this project. He is a former emergency medical responder and is board-certified in acupuncture and oriental medicine. Suffield currently consults with UF Health Jacksonville patients, offering them a nonpharmacologic toolkit of pain management options, including a virtual reality viewer to take home.
“Virtual reality allows patients to escape their pain by transporting them into another world,” Suffield said. “Patients who have compromised mobility due to their pain often feel trapped, in their pain and in their environment. However, by utilizing virtual reality, these patients are able to explore far-off places, dive on coral reefs or experience things they never dreamed possible.”
By educating his patients on the part of the brain linked to pain, Suffield can help them break the cycle of pain. Many patients report momentarily forgetting about their pain while using the virtual reality viewer, proving how powerful the mind really is.
Virtual reality has also been proved to help reduce pain and anxiety during procedures, burn or wound management, labor and delivery, and many other scenarios. Research shows that virtual reality sessions may reduce a patient’s perceived pain and increase their pain tolerance in acute and chronic pain. This can result in lowering the dosage and frequency of pain medication.
In addition to pain, virtual reality can also help lower stress and anxiety by serving as a distraction. Combining the virtual reality technology with concepts like mindfulness and meditation programs can help calm the patient and take their mind off their worries.
Other nonpharmacologic options, such as aromatherapy and deep breathing, pair well with virtual reality. Inhaling the aromas from essential oils may help stimulate a part of the brain that plays a role in emotions, behaviors, heart rate and blood pressure.