How virtual reality can bring you real-life pain

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How could virtual reality cause physical pain?
How could virtual reality cause physical pain?
Hammer & Tusk, Unsplash

From carpal tunnel to a stiff neck, too much time on the computer can cause a slew of health problems. But what if you ditch the keyboard and mouse for virtual reality?

New research from Oregon State University in Corvallis showed that even stepping into virtual reality may be bad for the body.

Virtual reality isn't just for playing games. It's also used for education and industrial training. In most cases, a headset is worn and users are expected to perform full-body movements.

But common virtual reality movements can result in muscle strain and discomfort, the study found.

Sensors on joints and muscles

"There are no standards and guidelines for virtual and augmented reality interactions," said study author Jay Kim, assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. "We wanted to evaluate the effects of the target distances, locations and sizes so we can better design these interfaces to reduce the risk for potential musculoskeletal injuries."

For the study, the researchers placed sensors on participants' joints and muscles during virtual reality sessions, and asked them to point to specific dots around a circle or to colour in an area with their finger. The tasks were repeated at varying degrees above and below eye level.

At all angles, extending the arm straight out caused shoulder discomfort in under three minutes, the study found. Over the long-term, virtual reality users are at risk for rotator cuff injuries or a form of muscle fatigue dubbed "gorilla arm syndrome", the researchers said in a university news release.

Objects should be at eye level

In addition, the weight of virtual reality headsets may put pressure on the spine and cause neck strain, the investigators noted.

"Based on this study, we recommend that objects that are being interacted with more often should be closer to the body," Kim said in the news release. "And objects should be located at eye level, rather than up and down."

The findings were recently published online in the journal Applied Ergonomics.

Image credit: iStock

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