Can virtual reality be your actual healer?

Can virtual reality be your actual healer?
VR technology is being used across the world to help patients with various conditions like Ausitm, Sleep disorder and Parkinson's Disease. ©Getty Images

Recent research shows that virtual reality technology can improve the quality of blood vessel surgery. While this technology isn't yet widely used in India, the rest of the world is resorting to it for healing many conditions. Read on to know about them.

Written by Editorial Team |Published : April 18, 2019 4:02 PM IST

When you hear the term virtual reality (VR), the first thing that usually comes to your mind is a VR headset, a screen, and a world of sci-fi, or, maybe a time travel. But do you know that this technique can also help you manage various health conditions? VR technology is being used across the world to help patients with recovery and doctors to probe into a condition in a more efficient way.

In a recent study conducted by the Society of Interventional Radiology, VR technology was used by doctors while operating blood vessels (these surgeries are done to cure clots, strokes, cardiovascular ailments, etc.) which virtually took them inside the patient's body giving a much clearer vision of these organs, even the smallest parts. This made the surgery more safe, efficient and precise. The new procedure required the doctors to wear VR goggles and insert a specially crafted catheter with electromagnetic sensors inside the patient's body. While travelling through the patient's blood vessels, the catheter captured the images of these organs which were converted into 3D images in the doctors' VR goggles by a software. This futuristic technology eliminates X-ray machines, giant screens, a special angiography suite and heavy lead vests that are currently required for the procedure and saves both the doctor and the patient from unnecessary exposure to radiation.

However, VR technology is not so popular in India as of now, but there have been instances when doctors have used VR to help patients. In India, a couple of years back, a Bangalore-based patient had undergone a surgery to get his two-inch cancerous tumour removed. After the surgery, doctors recommended him certain physiotherapies which involved painful exercises. He could perform only 5 reps of the leg movements he was required to perform. To ease the pain, he was asked to try VR therapy, where he had to watch soothing videos through a VR headset while undergoing physiotherapy. It worked wonders. Now, he managed to perform 13 reps of the same leg movements. Doctors are of the opinion that watching calming videos can manage to curb the pain by 40 per cent.

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In India, we are still waiting for virtual reality to be the actual reality in the field of medical treatments. However, the rest of the world is using this technology for many conditions like autism, pain management, OCD, Parkinson's Disease, so on and so forth. All it needs is a VR headset with goggles and a computer screen. Here, we tell you how virtual reality is helping patients in the actual reality.


It is a neurodevelopmental disorder which is identified at childhood. This condition impairs a kid s communication and social interaction skills. As per the estimates of World Health Organisation, one in every 160 children are living with this problem across the globe. If your little one is suffering from autism, he will have trouble in forming a sentence and in some cases may not be able to speak at all. Also, autistic kids find it difficult to interpret what others are saying.

How VR therapy helps: Several studies have mentioned that virtual reality could be key in treating people with disorders such as autism or schizophrenia. The researchers in a particular study published in the Journal of Scientific Reports suggested that the use of VR technology could help patients suffering from disorders such as autism by re-calibrating their time perception. For the study, the researchers used a VR game. People with autism experience an overlap in their sense of time, leading to delayed response.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

OCD is another psychological disorder that affects a significant majority of people around the world. People suffering from this condition develop repetitive behaviours and compulsive worrying syndrome. For example, the most common repetitive behaviour found in the OCD population is washing hands time and again. They are generally afraid of germ attacks.

How VR therapy helps: Various studies suggest that using virtual reality as a tool to treat mental health conditions like OCD can provide positive outcomes. In a study conducted at the Stanford University, researchers mentioned that VR can help in creating real-life-like situations and environments that stimulate OCD traits in the patient. Exposing him to those situations will help him face his fears and obsessions and tackle them as well. The advantage is, in case of VR treatment, the OCD patient doesn't have to go through his stimuli in real life which may be difficult for him, while he is still recovering. But repeated exposure to the stimuli through VR will gradually prep him up for the actual reality as well.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

A person suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder may experience flashback of a traumatic experience, panic attacks, and severe anxiety. It is a mental disorder that can affect his or her daily life as people who experience an episode of PTSD, find it difficult to deal with the triggers of this condition. If not treated early, this condition can persist for years.

How VR therapy helps: In this therapy, your feared situation will be created in a computer-automated room and you will go through by wearing a VR headset. For example, if a person has the fear of boarding a flight, a VR expert can provide you a virtual environment similar to that of an aeroplane to help him tackle that fear.

Sleep disorders

Too much or too less of sleep can spell doom for your health and overall well-being. The most common sleep disorder happens to be insomnia. Various studies have noted that around 10-30 per cent of the global population is suffering from this disorder. People who suffer insomnia often wake up in the middle of the night or may even find it difficult to fall asleep.

How VR therapy helps: While technology is considered to be one of most common sleep snatchers, it can also help you get better shut-eye time. VR technology is capable of doing so, finds experts across the world. The images of triggers behind your insomnia can be created virtually and you will be asked to view them through your VR goggles. This way, you will be able to deal with them better in your actual reality.

Pain management

After getting treated for a life-threatening disease like cancer, the biggest task is to cope with the pain that comes post-surgery. Here pain management becomes very difficult and even the exercises suggested by your doctor can exaggerate your pain for some time.

How VR therapy helps: Some estimates suggest that over 250 hospitals across the world use VR therapy to provide relief from chronic pain to their patients. As per the findings of a 2016 study published in the journal PLOS ONE, it was cited that a 5-minute VR experience was enough to bring down chronic pain by 33 per cent. In this therapy, you will be made to relax with the help of soothing images that flash upon your VR goggles. Your pain will go down as your nerves are soothed. Images or videos of breathing and relaxation techniques can also be used for pain management.

Parkinson s Disease

Parkinson s Disease (PD) is a neurological disorder that majorly affects your movement. You may experience unmanageable tremours in your hands and feet that make you dependant on others for the simplest of daily tasks. The doctors are yet to find a cure for this condition. However, you can still ease your symptoms with the help of drugs and surgical interventions. Of late, it has been found that virtual reality can help people with Parkinson's Disease.

How VR therapy helps: In an experiment conducted at the University of Utah, PD patients were put under a virtual reality training system for 30 minutes a week across 6 weeks. They experienced significant improvement in their balance and reduced risk of fall. Their fear of falling was eliminated by the help of VR therapy. In this programme, the participants were asked to walk on treadmills while stepping on virtual obstructions that appear on their VR goggles.