Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Scientists find virtual reality helps relieve pain

Teenager Jordan Robinson has faced excruciating pain since a backyard prank went wrong but treatment with virtual reality has given him some relief.

Robinson, 18, and his friends thought it would be fun to shoot flaming arrows at bags full of gasoline in his backyard but it turned out to be a very bad idea, landing him in hospital with severe burns on both of his legs.

"I've broken bones, I have done all sorts of stuff and I have never felt a pain like this," he told Reuters TV.

Robinson is taking morphine, but he also has access to a tool not commonly used in most hospitals -- virtual reality pain reduction.

While nurses manipulate his scarred and tender body through physical therapy, his mind is far away, immersed in a computer-generated world of snow and ice using virtual reality.

Normally he'd be in great pain as his burned legs are made to bend and straighten during therapy but in his virtual world, Robinson is too busy throwing snowballs at penguins and snowmen to notice much pain.

"It helps a lot. I wasn't expecting it to as helpful as it was. I haven't ever done anything like that before but I definitely wasn't expecting it to make as big of a difference as it did," he said.

Robinson has Hunter Hoffman, the director of the Virtual Reality Research Center at the University of Washington to thank for the extra pain relief. Hoffman created "SnowWorld."

"What virtual reality does is give them a place to escape. There is a natural tendency when you are in pain to want to leave the room or to get away from what is causing the pain," said Hoffman who is continually working to refine his techniques.

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