Low-Cost Virtual Reality Headsets Reduce Perceived Pain in Healthy Adults: A Multicenter Randomized Crossover Trial

Payal Patel, David Ivanov, Shubhang Bhatt, George Mastorakos, Brandon Birckhead, Nandita Khera, Janet Vittone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: Recent studies have established the usage of virtual reality (VR) to help alleviate acute and chronic pain. VR technology can be cost prohibitive and cheaper alternatives are desired. In this study, a Google Cardboard headset ($15) combined with a smartphone was used as a low-cost VR device to assess efficacy in altering the perception of pain. Materials and Methods: The cold pressor test, a minimal-risk method, was used to simulate pain. Participants immersed their hands into ice water, with and without VR, in a crossover manner, and their pain perception data were recorded. Results: Forty-eight healthy volunteer participants completed the study between 2017 and 2018. Participants were randomized to right hand control, left control, right experimental, and left experimental groups, respectively, before the crossover. Data collected included pain threshold (time at which participants first reported pain), pain tolerance (time at which participants removed their hand), and pain intensity (highest reported pain level on a [1-10] scale). Approximately two-thirds of participants had improvements in pain threshold and pain tolerance with a mean improvement of +13.0 seconds (P = 0.0045) for pain threshold and +29.8 seconds (P = 0.0003) for pain tolerance. Pain intensity had a reduction of 0.43 points (P = 0.0371). Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that inexpensive VR devices, such as the Google Cardboard headset used in this study, may be a safe, portable, and cost-effective way to alter the perception and improve tolerance of pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-136
Number of pages8
JournalGames for Health Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Cold pressor
  • Pain
  • Virtual reality (VR)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Rehabilitation
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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