The general goal of the confronting pain research group is to address those long-term issues faced by the estimated 15-29% of Canadians who currently suffer from chronic pain (see Boulanger et al., 2007). We are involved in three synergistic initiatives:

1. Immersive Virtual Reality (VR) as Therapy for Chronic Pain. Previous research has demonstrated that Immersive VR is effective for the treatment of acute pain (e.g., Hoffman et al., 2007). What remains unclear is whether such therapeutic benefits might also be seen when treating sufferers of chronic pain. We are building several VR environments that will be installed in a prominent pain clinic vancouver. Visitors to the clinic will be permitted to experience one of those VR environments. The effectiveness of the particular VR environment for the treatment of chronic pain will be assessed using standard pain questionnaires as well as with some custom data collection techniques (see below). An analysis of the results of exposure to those VR environments will allow us to determine the optimal stimuli, level of arousal, and other experiential factors for the alleviation of pain.

2. Tracking the Temporal and Spatial Aspects of Chronic Pain: Design and Evaluation. Chronic pain involves a prominent temporal component by definition. Accordingly, we wish to move beyond traditional measures of pain, which were not designed for the assessment of chronic pain and are almost always situated at one point in time. We are in the process of designing applications that serve to address that gap. Through rigorous information design and visualization we will address aspects of the chronic pain experience that unfold over weeks, months and years. Our efforts in this realm are also aimed at addressing some of the complexities of patient-physician communication.

3. Preventing and Alleviating Social Isolation and Immobility in Chronic Pain Sufferers. Chronic pain sufferers are not just burdened by their experience of pain. Their pain can come to affect every aspect of their life: Their emotional and social lives can be markedly affected, and their ability to work can also be threatened as the result of a general decrease in their mobility (see Breivik et al., 2008). This third initiative will begin by examining the characteristics of the progressive social isolation and immobility that is common to many individuals with chronic pain. Once that detailed analysis is complete, our group will design and then implement new tools–built with the goal of improving the mobility and social involvement of chronic pain sufferers.

This work is unique in its integration of technologies, its longitudinal focus and the depth of involvement of a Canadian physician who is an acknowledged expert in complex pain.


Boulanger, A., Clark, A. J., Squire, P., Cui, E., & Horbay, G. L. A. (2007). Chronic pain in Canada: Have we improved our management of chronic noncancer pain? Pain Research and Management, 12, 39-47.

Breivik, H., Borchgrevink, P. C., Allen, S. M., Rosseland, L. A., Romundstad, L., Hals, E. K., Kvarstein, G., & Stubhaug, A. (2008). Assessment of pain. British Journal of Anaesthesia, 101, 17-24.

Hoffman, H. G., Richards, T. L., Van Oostrom, T., Coda, B. A., Jensen, M. P., Blough, D. K., Sharar, S.R. (2007). The analgesic effects of opioids and immersive virtual reality distraction: evidence from subjective and functional brain imaging assessments. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 105, 1776-1783.


Keeping Socially-Connected & Mobile: In this third initiative, we will examine progressive social isolation and immobility common to chronic pain sufferers (Gatchel, et al., 2007). Experts in the area of Communication, Sociology, Computer Science and Interaction Design, will explore the ways in which mobile technologies (Crow, et al, 2008) may enable those who suffer from …

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Meditation Chambr

Virtual Reality

Our researchers develop innovative technologies combining immersive virtual reality with biotechnologies and meditation. We teach users how to control their mind/body states, so they can use this ability any time, anywhere. Software that reinforces and tracks this learning is under development for mobile technology. Studies on over 500 users demonstrate that virtual reality is more …

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Self-Assessing Over Time: We plan to examine and address issues that unfold over many months and years through information design and visualization: complexities of patient-physician communication, unaddressed ways to self-assess over time (Farrar, et al., 2006), understanding how the type, location and intensity of their pain changes over time, and patients’ ability to self-manage information …

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