Dr. Gromala demonstrating the Virtual Mediatative Walk in the SIAT Pain Studies Lab; Photo: Weina Jin

Research

Virtual Meditative Walk

April 02, 2019
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Can Virtual Reality help patients with chronic pain?

Dr. Diane Gromala and her team at Pain Studies Lab explore complex questions about human experience and pain.

The Virtual Meditative Walk (VMW) is a VR system incorporating biofeedback sensors, virtual environment and stereoscopic sound (see Figure 1). It was designed and developed to help chronic pain patients practice Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) by providing real-time environment changes, which allows patients to see a mirrored version of themselves and to learn to control inner emotional states while immersed in a relaxing setting.

Results of the first experiments to validate the current design indicate that the Virtual Meditative Walk VR system impact chronic pain patients’ pain level and tends to reduce their pain after the VR trial. While further experiments are needed, these are encouraging findings for the six million Canadians – a staggering 19% of the population – reported by Statistics Canada as suffering from chronic pain.

The team is continuing its work while VR headsets are becoming more accessible and popular. It is important to note that it is not VR itself that helps the patients, but the specific design and experience produced by the Pain studies Lab team through this interactive system. Dr. Gromala indicates in a recent article of the Globe and Mail that “People suffering from chronic pain would find 85 per cent of currently available off-the-shelf VR games inappropriate,” mostly because of all the flickering, rapid movements and eventful soundtrack.