EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — A Michigan State University team is researching the use of virtual reality goggles to reduce anxiety in surgery patients.

Patient James Klunzinger, 79, was able to stop fidgeting while becoming immersed in a VR experience, allowing his doctor to easily clean and prep his hand for a carpal tunnel release surgery.

“That was a lot better than having to watch the surgery,” he said. “It was distracting, which is good. I would give it a thumbs up.” 

Patients immersed in VR while undergoing wide-awake surgery experience more joy and less anxiety than those who underwent the surgery in a traditional operating room setting, according an MSU study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

“For patients immersed in the VR experience, we definitely saw an increase in joy,” said James Clarkson, the senior author of the study and an assistant professor of surgery at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. “And for patients with an anxiety disorder, we saw decreased anxiety and their joy levels significantly increased,” said Clarkson, a hand surgeon at MSU Health Care. 

Researchers wanted to compare patients undergoing traditional carpal tunnel release surgery in a hospital with monitored anesthesia care or general anesthetic, against those who did the surgery while awake using local anesthesia with no tourniquet while under VR immersion.  

Patients who had the awake surgery in an office setting and opted to use VR experienced higher enjoyment than those who did not use VR, at a rate of 85% compared to 73%.

Subjects that reported having an anxiety disorder were more likely to choose the VR experience and, when they did, they experienced decreased anxiety

You can read the full study here.