VR reduces pain during exercise, finds study

A research paper published by the School of Engineering and Digital Arts at the University of Kent argues that using VR headsets during exercise can reduce pain and increase the level of sustaining an activity.

The research, which was led by PhD candidate Maria Matsangidou from EDA, was set out to determine the effect of using VR on certain inner-body functions like heart rate, including pain intensity, perceived exhaustion, time to exhaustion and private body consciousness. For this study, a total of 80 individuals were monitored performing an isometric bicep curl set at 20% of the maximum weight they could lift, which they were then asked to hold for as long as possible. The other half acted as a control group who did the lift and hold in a room that had a chair and table and a yoga mat on the floor.

The VR group were positioned in the same and was provided the same items. They wore their VR headsets and saw the same environment, which also had a visual representation of an arm and the weight. This same process was repeated with the non-VR group. The outcome was flawless. It showed a clear reduction in perception of pain and effort when using VR technology. After a minute, the VR group had reported a pain intensity that was 10% less than the non-VR Group.

Moreover, the time to exhaustion for the VR group was around two minutes longer than those doing conventional exercise. The VR group also showed a lower heart rate of three beats per minute than the non-VR group. The findings of the study revealed that VR is effective in reducing perceived pain, and private body consciousness did not diminish the effect.

Similar use of the technology is done by French startup Healthy Mind to explore the efficiency of VR in hospitals, as an alternative to anaesthetics for minor operations. The early trials have mostly received “positive” feedback.

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