back pain, chronic illness, chronic pain, MOOC, pain, pain management
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Learning About Chronic Pain Prevention With MOOCs

Let’s get this started with a quote from the MOOC in question: “It’s very difficult to completely get rid of chronic pain if you don’t successful manage it in the first thirty days.” — Dr. James Fricton

Well, no wonder I’m f**ked.

I have never successfully completed a MOOC, or massive open online course, but of course this topic struck a chord: Preventing Chronic Pain: A Human Systems Approach, which is being offered through the University of Minnesota. The first week’s lesson was just released, so I am settling myself in for this 10-week course to see how this pain researcher and professor, Dr. James Fricton, can offer me new and unique ways to prevent my pain from getting worse.

Imagine my surprise when I see that the suggested course reading is a mystery novel — that he wrote! As he explains in the introductory video, Dr. Fricton started writing a book because he wanted to explain these preventative concepts as he’d come to learn them; then he realized that there was more of a story to be told, and instead of penning a boring academic treatise on pain management, he’d written an actual novel called The Last Scroll. That was my first indication that this was going to be much more than a barely-present audit of a class. As he said in the syllabus:

To introduce each module, we will use creative strategies that revolve around the story, music, and concepts from a romantic thriller novel entitled The Last Scroll.  In this story, a lonely physician travels to an ancient Roman spa in a small medieval Italian town to learn about universal and timeless truths of health and wellness. You will participate in a virtual visit to the Roman spa to learn about the seven realms within your own life, and how specific actions can enhance positive energy, health, and wellness, while preventing chronic pain.


I want to go to a Roman spa!

Just like this.

Just like this.

Already I sense alternative thinking here. This is so different from other pain management classes or websites that I have encountered, and we’ve barely even started. His resume is hellishly impressive: president of the International MYOPAIN Society, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, pain specialist at the Minnesota Head and Neck Pain Clinic, and a senior researcher for the HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research.

So what’s it look like from here on out? Dr. Fricton puts much emphasis on common sense. What can we do to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors? He said (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Do you have pain from sitting in a chair all day? What do you do in response? You switch the chair, not yourself or your actions.”

That comfy couch will not save you!

That comfy couch will not save you.

Think about how simple that is, how very true. Humanity has created various lifestyles that demand certain levels of physicality; even an office job has a detrimental effect on the body. As my chiropractor said, humans just weren’t meant to sit at a desk for ten hours a day and go typity-typity-type. So, instead of standing while working or even looking for a different job, you’d switch your chair to an ergonomic one. But really, if you sit in a chair for eight hours, it’s going to hurt!

Conclusion: Humanity is stupid.

Population: idiots.

Population: idiots.

Dr. Fricton lightly touched on the topics to come: the seven realms of pain prevention, the different types of chronic pain, and the necessity of common sense in health care. Chronic pain patients have much more authority over their pain than they realize (I am including myself in this statement). Doctors cannot get in our heads. They don’t know what the pain actually feels like. We can make changes in our lives in order to truly prevent chronic pain from worsening. By taking this course, interacting with others in the forums, and being quizzed on the material, I hope to get that Certificate of Completion to stick on my LinkedIn profile.



As Dr. Fricton said, “We know our health care system is broken. … It doesn’t do a good job of keeping us healthy.”

We can transform it by first transforming ourselves.

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