Physical therapy professor uses virtual reality to provide pain management

Dr. Maureen Simmonds hopes VR will allow patients to cut down on some medication

SAN ANTONIO – For 15 years, a physical therapy professor at UT Health San Antonio has been using virtual reality to help reduce her patients' pain and change their attitudes toward it.

Dr. Maureen Simmonds believes that the mind's power over pain is stronger than people realize. 

"Whether we're sort of fooling the brain in terms of what we believe we see, as opposed to what is actually there, or what we hear or feel," she said.

Patients wear virtual reality goggles and sensors, then Simmonds tailors the treatments to each patient's condition by creating enjoyable distractions during painful situations.

"Pleasurable games or relaxing games, depending on how you feel," she said.

Simmonds first tests students who don't have chronic pain, to control and measure pain levels with and without virtual reality.

"We can actually induce them to move faster without aggravating pain," she said.

Simmonds said the high-tech distractions have led to long-lasting pain reduction for some patients.

She hopes virtual reality treatment will allow patients to cut down on at least some pain medications, including opioids.

Simmonds reminds her patients that virtual reality treatment is not a cure for the pain but a tool to alter thinking and help reduce pain.

Anyone interested in volunteering for future VR studies can call 210-567-8766.

About the Author

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

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