Pain Distraction: Labor Pain

Virtual reality (VR) has been used to manage pain and distress associated with a wide variety of known painful medical procedures. Although the exact mechanisms remain unclear, VR is generally hypothesized to be capable of reducing pain by means of distraction. Conscious attention is required to process pain signals and VR can provide an engaging environment, which draws a lot of attentional resources, leaving less attention available to process these pain signals.

In collaboration with the Red Cross Hospital Beverwijk we are looking into the utility of VR as a pain reduction technique for labour pain. Labour pain has two components; a sensory (the 'pain sensation') and an emotional one (the 'affective pain'). Previous research showed that distraction by means of music can reduce the intensity of both components. The pain experienced during labour is not continuous in nature however; during contractions, the pain signals amplify enormously. In light of the idea that attention-demanding stimuli have to compete for a limited set of cognitive resources, it would be ideal if the distracting stimuli were proportional to the pain signals in intensity. We therefore developed a VR application that interacts with a stress ball. When the ball is pressed, the intensity of the VR stimuli increase. The application is expected to have strong effects on pain reduction, leading to a reduced demand for medication.

  • Virtual reality
  • Labour pain
  • Acute pain
  • Stress ball

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