Virtual Reality Approaches to Pain: Toward a State of the Science

Zina Trost; Christopher France; Monima Anam; Corey Shum


Pain. 2021;162(2):325-331. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Virtual reality (VR) applications have emerged as nonpharmacological alternatives or adjuncts for acute and chronic pain management, with the potential to reduce the need for opioid medications. Keefe et al summarized existing applications of pain-targeted VR[56] and pointed to a future where this technology could exert a positive disruptive influence on the field. Because of the fast pace of development in this area, we aim to update the 2012 review with a critical assessment of the current state of VR applications to pain. This brief review will begin by defining VR and summarizing evidence for its utility in addressing acute and chronic pain. We will then describe pressing scientific gaps and promising future directions. The current review is designed to provide a broad overview and theoretical synthesis of the field today rather than a systematic review or meta-analysis. Table S1 (available as supplemental digital content at summarizes the literature that was identified for this review based on searches of MEDLINE (through PubMed) and Google Scholar with primary search terms of "virtual reality AND pain" and "virtual reality AND pain AND therapy" and "virtual reality AND pain management." The resultant literature included systematic reviews, narrative reviews, meta-analyses, and empirical articles. Where available, Table S1 also provides ratings of methodological rigor for individual studies based on previous systematic reviews (available as supplemental digital content at