(CNN)The next time you habitually search your bathroom cabinet for some pain medication, you may want to consider playing a video game first. Research has shown that psychology plays an important part in how we experience both acute and chronic pain — and that painful sensations can be manipulated by what we think and feel.

Such approaches to pain relief are looking increasingly promising thanks to rapid advances in technology. Virtual reality games are already showing promise in tackling acute pain, seemingly by simply helping us focus on other things. Now a new study has shed some light on how this might work and how it could be improved in the future.

The multi-sensory basis of pain

Advances in computer graphics, especially within the gaming world, have meant that some traditionally expensive technologies are becoming more accessible. For example, immersive virtual reality systems are starting to be developed for use by patients during painful procedures, such as dental procedures or changing burns dressings.





Beyond studies of distraction, we are also starting to see other examples of how virtual reality could be used, and even incorporated into cognitive behavioral approaches to chronic pain management. For example, virtual games have been used as a means of delivering exposure-based behavioural treatments for pain, in which a patient is placed in different virtual situations that they might otherwise avoid.
It would be fascinating to see whether this approach could be fully incorporated in pain management plans, perhaps even within the home.
However, few clinical trials have examined the efficacy of internet-based psychological pain management, and the extent to which virtual reality is used within this is unclear.
Whatever the application, there is a need for clear evidence that pain management can work in practice, and doesn’t make things worse. But from a research point of view, it’s all very exciting. Not only does it seem like we are getting better at tackling pain using techniques such as virtual reality, the techniques themselves are actually helping us better understand the multi-sensory experience of pain.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/05/health/video-games-pain-the-conversation/index.html