Virtual reality for acute and chronic pain management in adult patients: a narrative review.
Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment that immerses the user in an interactive artificial world. This ability to distract from reality has been utilised for the purposes of providing pain relief from noxious stimuli. As technology rapidly matures, there is potential for anaesthetists and pain physicians to incorporate virtual reality devices as non-pharmacological therapy in a multimodal pain management strategy. This systematic narrative review evaluates clinical studies that used virtual reality in adult patients for management of acute and chronic pain. A literature search found 690 citations, out of which 18 studies satisfied the inclusion criteria. Studies were assessed for quality using the Jadad and Nottingham-Ottawa Scales. Agreement on scores between independent assessors was 0.87 (95%CI 0.73-0.94). Studies investigated virtual reality use: intra-operatively; for labour analgesia; for wound dressing changes; and in multiple chronic pain conditions. Twelve studies showed reduced pain scores in acute or chronic pain with virtual reality therapy, five studies showed no superiority to control treatment arms and in one study, the virtual reality exposure group had a worsening of acute pain scores. Studies were heterogeneous in: methods; patient population; and type of virtual reality used. These limitations suggest the evidence-base in adult patients is currently immature and more rigorous studies are required to validate the use of virtual reality as a non-pharmacological adjunct in multimodal pain management.