Virtual Reality, Music, and Pain: Developing the Premise for an Interdisciplinary Approach to Pain Management

Emily Honzel; Sarah Murthi; Barbara Brawn-Cinani; Giancarlo Colloca; Craig Kier; Amitabh Varshney; Luana Colloca


Pain. 2019;160(9):1909-1919. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Research in pain management seeks to offer new approaches to pain treatments that present severe side effects. This endeavor is of increasing importance as opioid misuse and deaths in the United States rise,[66] and as health care practitioners and patients are advised to move away from opioid-based pain management.

Virtual reality (VR) and music therapy (MT) have been separately explored as interventions for alleviating pain with relatively consistent levels of success.[9,69,85] In this article, we refer to VR as immersive computer-generated environments designed to make a user experience them as real. Music therapy refers to the use of music to promote healing.[9] An approach to pain management that combines MT and VR may present novel opportunities for reducing patient pain suffering by presenting a focused aesthetic multisensory stimulation. This might in turn regulate mood, emotions, attention demands, memory, and patients' engagement. Although many nonpharmacological methods of pain control have been explored (eg, hypnosis and meditation), we have chosen to focus on VR and MT as 2 highly compatible methods, with the intent of addressing our concepts and perspectives as basic scientists, musicians, physicians, and educators.

We conducted a PubMed literature search using the terms: VR and pain; MT and pain. We found 288 and 243 articles, respectively, and reviewed them (E.H. and L.C.). Manually, we also found 37 additional published data-based articles and comprehensive reviews. We presented a total of 53 selected data-based articles (Table 1). Studies were selected that directly investigated the relationship between music or virtual reality and pain in both healthy and pain-afflicted populations using objective and subjective measures of pain as the primary outcome. Studies that assessed multiple interventions beyond virtual reality or music were excluded.