Immersive Virtual Reality

Participate in one of our Virtual Reality Studies

Chronic pain is a significant health issue worldwide.  Recent concerns about rates of opioid addiction and related mortality in people with chronic pain have underlined the need to develop non-pharmacological treatments that can help control pain and improve function.  In MH&E we are exploring Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) as a method to treat chronic pain. 

senior citizens using VR headsets

In IVR subjects are placed in a three-dimensional, life-sized computer-generated environment via a computer headset.  It has shown great promise as a method to control acute pain, but, as yet, has had only minimal testing in chronic pain.  Our lab is on the forefront of developing feasible protocols that can be used by Occupational Therapists and other clinicians to implement IVR as one tool in multidisciplinary, biopsychosocial treatments for their clients with chronic pain.

IVR Activities

VR experience therapeutic catalogue: We are using principles of activity analysis to evaluate commercially available IVR programs for their usability as a therapeutic medium for people with chronic pain. To see an Activities Menu click here

Dosage of IVR: We will evaluate if 10, 20, or 30 minutes of IVR has a larger effect on  symptoms, affect, and tolerance to cutaneous stimuli.  This pilot study will also help us to determine the feasibility of conducting IVR research, including what outcome measures to use, recruitment, and using Ecological Momentary Assessment as a means to collect data.  We are partnering with Megan Driscoll at UPMC Chronic Pain Clinic in Pittsburgh, PA, who will ensure clinician input into the design of the study.  Co-I’s Drs. James Intriligator and Nathan Ward of Tufts University will provide insights into perception, attention, and virtual reality and Dr. Robert Edwards of Brigham and Women’s chronic pain program will provide guidance on using Quantitative Sensory Testing as well as treating people with chronic pain. 

a son showing his father how to use a VR headset

This project is funded by Tufts CTSI NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award (UL1TR002544)

Effect of IVR as an adjunct to OT or PT therapy:  he purpose of this research study is to see if Virtual Reality experiences help improve symptoms of pain.  This research study takes place during 20 subjects’ inpatient rehabilitation treatment at Encompass Health.  At the start of their rehabilitation treatment, they will take part in one of two research study interventions.  One is a 15-minute session of Virtual Reality followed by a 5-minute debrief. The other is a 15-minute session of Computer Games followed by a 5-minute debrief. They will do both study interventions, the Computer Games first and the Virtual Reality second. We are partnering with therapists Kimberly Van Damme Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital

This project is funded by a Small Grant from Encompass Health. 

Creating embodiment in virtual reality: A pilot study evaluating visio-tactile stimulation and feasibility:We will evaluate the feasibility of “puppeting” a virtual hand with the opposite hand in increasing complex movements and the effect of visio-tactile stimuli on embodiment to determine if it is a necessary part of the process. We hypothesize that participants will demonstrate a greater sense of embodiment with visio-tactile stimuli (VTS) than without visio-tactile stimuli (NoVTS)

This grant is supported by a Tufts FRAC Grant

Conference Presentations:

  • Baker NA. The Feasibility of Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) as a Treatment for Chronic Back Pain. 20 min online presentation. Dissemination of Research Results Open House, Tufts CTSI; 2023 Mar 29, Boston, MA.
  • Simmons T, Baker NA, Simonson A. VR Speaker Series – Volume I: Health & Medicine. 1 hr online panel. SMFA at Tufts; 2023 Mar 14, Boston, MA.
  • Baker NA Into the metaverse: Using virtual reality to treat chronic pain. 1 hr hybrid invited presentation. Human Movement and Balance Laboratory; 2023 Feb 3, Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Baker NA. Into the metaverse: Virtual reality advances to treat pain. Invited Guest Speaker. McGill Experimental Surgery and Injury Repair and Recovery Seminar Series. 2022 Dec 13; McGill University Montreal Quebec (Virtual)
  • Baker NA. Into the metaverse: Virtual reality advances to treat pain. Podium Presentation. ACR Convergence, 2022 Nov 13; Philadelphia, PA.
  • Sarkar T, Edwards R, Baker NA. Virtual reality and chronic pain for older adults. Poster. 2022 American Occupational Therapy Annual Conference, 2022 Apr 2; San Antonio, TX.
  • Sarkar T, Edwards R, Cornelius M, Baker NA. The feasibility and effectiveness of meditation virtual reality in reducing pain for older adults with knee osteoarthritis. Poster. Massachusetts Association for Occupational Therapy Annual Conference; 2021 Oct 25; Online.     
  • Driscoll M, Baird J, Baker NA. Virtual Reality: Intervention for chronic pain management. Short Course. Inspire AOTA Annual Conference, 2021 Apr 6; Remote
  • Driscoll M, Baird J, Baker NA. Virtual reality: Intervention for chronic pain management. Podium Presentation, 2020 American Occupational Therapy Association Annual Conference, 2020 Mar; Boston, MA
  • Feller H, Baird J, Driscoll M, Baker NA. Virtual Reality: An Intervention Approach for Chronic Pain. Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association Annual Conference; 2019 Oct; Pittsburgh, PA
  • Driscoll M, Baker NA. Independent Healing: Behavioral activation for chronic pain. Poster. American Occupational Therapy Association Annual Conference, 2018 Apr 19; Salt Lake City, UT.