Ice-Blue Virtual World Can Ease Even Excruciating Pain

Air Date: 09/02/2010
Source:
NBC Nightly News
Creator:
Brian Williams/Robert Bazell
Air/Publish Date:
09/02/2010
Event Date:
09/02/2010
Resource Type:
News Report
Copyright:
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
Copyright Date:
2010
Clip Length:
00:02:28

Patients in pain -- especiall burn and PTSD patients -- find relief in the distraction of entering a virtual CGI world of cool blue colors, animated penguins and polar bears, with the song "Graceland" as a soundtrack. It is the latest evidence supporting the theory of "mind over matter."

Ice-Blue Virtual World Can Ease Even Excruciating Pain

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:

Back now as promised, with a fascinating medical story about a novel way to control pain that involves mental distraction so effective, so real, it actually eases a patient's physical suffering. It's a technique that's gaining acceptance, especially for soldiers returning from war, including those with post traumatic stress disorder. Our chief science correspondent Robert Bazell has more on a pain treatment that relies on mind over matter.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Tell me when you are comfortable.

ROBERT BAZELL, reporting:

It is a land of cool blues and greens, ice, penguins and polar bears, called "Snow World." There's no warmth or heat, not even warm colors--no reds, no orange--that might remind the viewer of harsh pain. And as the viewer becomes immersed in this low-temperature virtual world, he hears the soothing sounds of a familiar song.

Mr. HUNTER HOFFMAN (University of Washington): When they say, `I'm feeling less pain,' their brains are also showing less pain.

BAZELL: Hunter Hoffman at the University of Washington devised this virtual reality as a treatment for excruciating pain, especially pain caused by burns.

HOFFMAN: It's the opposite of fire. So "Snow World" was specifically designed for putting out the fires of pain.

This is a thermal pain stimulator.

BAZELL: In the lab, I get a demonstration. First Hoffman has a device to give me an electric hotfoot and keeps turning up the temperature.

OK. I can feel it.

Next, as I put on the goggles and earphones, I not only hear sight and sound, as a further distraction I can hurl snowballs at the animated creatures. And in this distracting virtual world...

Snow and ice and...

BAZELL: ...I barely notice the hotfoot.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Let's go up for your range of motion.

BAZELL: William Shnardika accidentally doused his arm with burning kerosene in a campfire accident, and when the nurses come to change his dressing and scrub it...

WILLIAM SHNARDIKA: It is, by far, the worst pain I've ever had in my life.

WOMAN #2: Headphones.

BAZELL: At first he was skeptical, but says he discovered that this parallel world, so different from his injuries, actually relieved his pain far better than any medication.

HOFFMAN: Virtual reality is especially powerful because the patient can no longer see the hospital room. They can't see the wound that's being worked on. And they can't hear the hospital rooms.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Take a deep breath.

BAZELL: The success is a demonstration of what doctors have long known, that pain is perceived in the brain, and even distraction can bring amazing relief. Robert Bazell, NBC News, Seattle.

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