Chronic pain is one of the leading causes of long-term disability worldwide. By some measures, 50 million Americans live with chronic pain, in part because the power of medicine to relieve it remains insufficient.
Helen Ouyang, physician and writer for The New York Times Magazine, explores the potentially revolutionary use of virtual reality in the relief of acute pain, as well as anxiety and depression, and meets the doctors and entrepreneurs who believe that “non-pharmacological therapy” is a good alternative to prescription drugs.
Ouyang explains the rise of virtual reality as an unlikely tool to solve the “unsolvable problem” of pain, but she also highlights those who stand to benefit financially from treatment: the virtual reality sector in healthcare alone. is, by some estimates, already valued at billions of dollars, and is expected to increase by multiples over the next few years.
A lush forest, a snow-capped mountain, a sunset desert – could these virtual experiences really be the answer to managing chronic pain?
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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Margaret Willison, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.