To explore the mind’s influence over pain, Daniel Harvie, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Australia, and his colleagues asked 24 participants who suffer from chronic neck pain to sit in a chair while wearing virtual-reality glasses and turn their head. The displays were manipulated to make the participants think that they were turning their head more or less than they actually were.
Subjects could swivel their head 6 percent more than usual if the virtual reality made them think they were turning less, and they could rotate 7 percent less than usual when they thought they were turning more.
The findings suggest that virtual-reality therapy has the potential to retrain the brain to understand that once painful movements are now safe, extinguishing the association with danger. Harvie believes that such therapy has the potential to restore full pain-free range of motion to people recovering from injuries and could perhaps help individuals with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.