Design Engineering
Showcase 2021


Chronic Pain
Evidence-Based Therapy
Virtual Reality

Project Details

Elijah Ko
Innovation Design Engineering
Inclusive interaction


Chronic pain has recently been highlighted as one of the most prominent causes of disability worldwide. Here in the UK, it affects 28 million adults.

Evidence-based behavioral strategies are effective methods, however, multiple barriers prevent patients from broadly accessing these low-risk and nonpharmacologic pain self-management tools. Barriers include few skilled local therapists, co-payments associated with clinic visits, travel costs, and treatment time. Even when delivered to patients at no cost, in-person behavioral treatments can have poor patient engagement, and remain therapist dependent, thereby suggesting a new delivery method to meet the needs of a broad range of patients.

Solution - painVRee

The “painVRree” project is a skill-based, self-administered, virtual reality intervention for chronic pain. It transcends many current barriers (few skilled local therapists, co-payments associated with clinic visits, travel costs, and treatment time) to provides a scalable way to deliver on-demand home-based behavioral treatment for chronic pain.

Diaphragmatic breathing, an evidence-based behavioral pain management technique, is conveyed in an intuitive and playful way.

The player’s breathing rhythm is used as a game controller to navigate a virtual pain portrait.

Heart rate, skin conductance, & peripheral body temperature of painful moments are used for monitoring treatment progress and formulating the pain portrait in VR.


I am working with 12 chronic pain patients. Validation was made in a longitudinal survey which was conducted across 3 time-point: pre-treatment, treatment, and post-treatment.

The primary aim is to evaluate the preliminary efficacy of VR intervention in terms of (i) average pain intensity, (ii) pain-related interference with activity, stress, mood and sleep, (iii) pain catastrophizing (negative cognition and emotion in the context of pain)

and (iv) pain self-efficacy (patients’ confidence in their ability to carry out their daily activities)

The secondary aim is to evaluate the feasibility and satisfaction of the treatment. This includes (i) 85% better change in pain (ii) 90% satisfaction and (iii) no motion sickness at all, indicating the potential feasibility for the elderly population.