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.