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Immersive Virtual Reality in Burn Management: Pain Relief and Rehabilitation

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The discoveries of immersive virtual reality in medicine continue to surprise us because, in addition to rehabilitating motor aspects, it can alleviate pain in people who have suffered severe burns

In other words, this unconventional approach has not only been shown to significantly reduce pain but is also marking a before and after in motor rehabilitation processes. 

In this article by Kinesix VR, we'll explore how virtual reality is transforming treatment for burn patients for a more effective recovery.

Delving into the pain experience

The recovery journey for burn patients is full of unique challenges, where pain management becomes a critical priority. Every patient experiences pain differently, with various issues such as the extent and depth of burns, individual sensitivity to pain, cognitive-attentional aspects, and emotional circumstances playing a significant role in their perception. 

In addition, psychological sequelae, including fear and post-accident trauma, can exacerbate pain sensations, creating a cycle that is difficult to break. Therefore, effective pain management requires a holistic approach that addresses physical, cognitive, and emotional aspects, emphasizing the importance of innovative treatments such as immersive virtual reality.

Case studies and scientific evidence

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Numerous studies have begun to illustrate the potential of virtual reality in pain management and rehabilitation. For example, one entitled "Immersive Virtual Reality as a Non-Opioid Adjuvant Analgesic for Children," found that immersive virtual reality can help reduce pain in children with large severe burn injuries.

Other research entitled "Virtual reality hand therapy: A new tool for non opioid analgesia for acute procedural pain, hand rehabilitation, and VR embodiment therapy for phantom limb pain" reveals that immersive virtual reality is demonstrating efficacy as an adjunctive non-pharmacological analgesic to reduce acute pain during wound treatment.    

Consequently, research has shown that patients using VR report a significant reduction in their level of pain during burn treatment, reducing the perceived intensity, level of discomfort, and time they thought about the pain. In addition, rehabilitation programs incorporating virtual reality show promising results in improving mobility and decreasing recovery time.

Immersive virtual reality as a pain relief in-depth

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The therapeutic approach offered by immersive virtual reality goes beyond simple distraction; it is an immersion that modifies the patient's perception of their current environment and thus their pain

By immersing themselves in digital scenarios, patients experience a form of escapism that is not only physical but also mental, which is crucial in the treatment of chronic and acute pain associated with burns.

In this sense, virtual reality acts on multiple levels of the pain perception process. First, at the cognitive level, it distracts the brain, attentional resources are divided between the interaction with virtual reality and the natural physical reality, thus reducing the amount and time spent on pain signals being processed and perceived. This is vital during procedures such as changing bandages or performing rehabilitation exercises, times that can be especially traumatic for patients with severe burns.

In addition, immersive virtual reality also plays an important role on an emotional level. Burns leave not only physical signs but also emotional marks. By transporting patients to places that evoke serenity and peace, better emotional management is facilitated, helping them to combat negative moods and foster a more positive attitude towards recovery. 

This emotional well-being is crucial, as mood can significantly influence the perception of pain and motivation to participate in rehabilitation.

Another aspect to highlight is the potential of virtual reality to personalize pain relief experiences. Each patient can choose environments that they find particularly relaxing or stimulating, which means that therapy can be tailored to their individual needs and preferences, thereby increasing the effectiveness of treatment.

Virtual reality motor rehabilitation for burns patients

Motor rehabilitation is an essential component in the recovery of burn patients, who often face significant challenges in regaining mobility and function in affected areas. Here, immersive virtual reality presents itself not only as a therapy tool but as a bridge to physical and emotional recovery.

First, let's consider the motivation aspect. Rehabilitation can be a long and painful process, especially for those with severe injuries. Virtual environments can transform monotonous or painful exercises into interactive and enjoyable experiences

For example, a patient who needs to perform stretching or mobility exercises can do so within a game or task that is performed in a virtual environment, transforming a painful activity into a more engaging one and distracting the patient from the pain.

In addition, customization is essential. Each burn patient has unique needs, depending on the severity and location of their injuries. Virtual reality makes it possible to create tailored rehabilitation programs that can be adjusted not only to the patient's specific needs, but also to their progress. This adaptability ensures that exercises remain challenging but achievable, avoiding frustration and fostering a sense of accomplishment.

Virtual reality immersion can also reproduce real-life scenarios that a patient may find intimidating or difficult post-injury. For example, crossing the street or navigating crowded spaces can be practiced first in a safe and controlled environment, building the patient's confidence before facing these situations in the real world.

From a technical perspective, virtual reality offers unprecedented opportunities for monitoring and feedback. Therapists can observe how patients move in the virtual environment, collect accurate data on their performance and progress, and adjust treatments accordingly. 

This immediate feedback is invaluable for both the therapist and the patient, as it allows them to see improvements in real-time, which can be incredibly motivating.

Advances in motor rehabilitation through virtual reality represent a significant shift in the therapeutic approach for burn patients. By combining technology with individual needs and personalized care, virtual reality is opening new avenues for more effective, faster and, most importantly, patient-centered recovery.


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