Virtual reality has been a key focus in the tech and gaming industries in 2017.

However, the VR headsets we’re getting more and more used to seeing are getting mixed reviews from users and researchers alike.

Some studies have suggested that VR could be potentially damaging to users’ health. However, other studies have suggested just the opposite.

Here are three potential health benefits of VR, backed by research.

1. VR Can Improve Attention Spans

Gaming gets a bad reputation for encouraging short attention spans, violence in children and obesity, but it may not be a reputation that is rightfully earned. In spite of a survey in 2000 from Microsoft that found the average attention span has dropped to just eight seconds, people who suffer from ADD and ADHD can benefit from virtual reality.

The idea behind the study is that virtual reality provides a ‘meditative’ state that can encourage increased attention span. Virtual reality provides an immersive experience that requires people with even the shortest attention spans to stay connected to the experience. When paired with traditional ADD and ADHD treatments, this tool could change the way we look at attention spans.

The only caveat is that it would require the development of software designed to be engaging for all users, in spite of their attention spans.

2. VR Helps Relieve Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a difficult diagnosis to treat, primarily because each case is very unique, but most treatment includes things like prescription pain relievers and physical therapy. It’s hard to believe that a virtual reality program could help treat chronic pain, but many studies are showing potential benefits virtual reality might have for chronic pain sufferers.

A study conducted by the University of Alberta in 2011 found that virtual reality can have a positive effect on acute pain, so following that train of thought, new studies are also working to explore the effect of virtual reality on chronic pain.

Theoretically, virtual reality can be used to retrain the pathways of the brain that react to pain. It would be a slow process, requiring multiple treatments, but it could potentially create new treatment options for chronic pain that was previously considered untreatable.

3. VR Helps Relieve Cancer Treatment Stress

A cancer diagnosis and the accompanying treatments can be one of the most stressful parts of a person’s life. Unfortunately, this stress can be detrimental to the health of the patient, as well as making the treatments less effective. Options to reduce the stress related to cancer often are not as effective as they need to be. A recent study conducted in Australia found that virtual reality sessions can alleviate the stress associated with chemotherapy.

These virtual reality sessions are done during the patient’s chemotherapy treatments, and they provide an immersive alternative to the stark, cold environment that accompanies hospitals and medical facilities.

The only problem that might prevent virtual reality treatments from being used in hospitals is sanitation concerns. Patients whose immune systems have been compromised by chemotherapy or other medical treatments are highly susceptible to outside germs, and it can be difficult or even impossible to sterilize the various components of a virtual reality headset.

Even industrial equipment intended for sterile environments has to be created in a sanitary environment so, while virtual reality equipment is assembled in a static-free clean room to protect the electronic equipment, it is not necessarily a germ-free environment.

These are just a few of the examples that show how virtual reality could impact the field of medicine.

There are studies that have shown the benefits of virtual reality as a tool to rehabilitate drug addicts and help soldiers deal with their PTSD symptoms, just to name a few.

If the issue of equipment sterilization can be solved, virtual reality could be an indispensible tool for the treatment of a variety of issues.

Image by Bradley Hook

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews writes about technology and gadgets for Motherboard, MakeUseOf and The Gadget Flow. To read more posts by Kayla, check out her blog Productivity Bytes.