U professor’s online course targets chronic pain

More than 23,500 participants from 176 countries enrolled in the course in its first year.

Jessie Bekker

Kristina Martin is surrounded by people in pain.

At least four of her family members, including her fiancé and his parents, suffer from chronic pain. But when Martin enrolled in a University of Minnesota professor’s massive open online course, or MOOC, she gained tools to help them.

Professor emeritus in the Institute for Health Informatics James Fricton created “Prevention of Chronic Pain: A Human Systems Approach” to teach chronic pain patients and health professionals methods for dealing with pain through exercise and meditation rather than medication.

The 10-week MOOC, now in its second year, opened Monday — this time with an increased focus on patients.

In its first year, the course included more than 23,500 participants from 176 different countries. About half of them were patients, and half were health professionals.

Fricton designed the course to improve chronic pain and increase awareness of it on a global scale, he said.

He said he’s concerned with the lack of research surrounding chronic pain and that people spend too much money on health care to treat what, according to his course, can be remedied largely at home.

“It’s what I call the big elephant in the room of health care,” Fricton said. “We need an entire shift in our approach to these types of problems.”

Fricton said he was surprised by the course’s patient-to-professional ratio last year. This time, he split the course into two tracks, one for health professionals and a less-scientific track for patients.

Some of the modules are designed by Fricton, and others are assembled by other health professionals specializing in various types of pain management.

Fricton will also offer a class through the University beginning this fall that students can take for credit to learn more about preventing chronic pain. Assistant professor of physical therapy Kathleen Anderson created a lesson on arthritis for the MOOC. She said the course is unique because it’s accessible for those struggling with pain from the comfort of their homes.

“I look at it as an opportunity for general awareness and perhaps to pique people’s interest about becoming more knowledgeable about the management of pain,” she said.

Although Martin, who lives in Mississippi, doesn’t suffer from chronic pain herself, she uses the meditation modules to manage stress.

“It gave me a lot of knowledge as to what actually entails chronic pain and treating it,” she said. “[Fricton’s] take on it was very refreshing.”

After completing all the exercises and watching the entirety of the videos, Martin said she would recommend the course to anyone, regardless of whether or not they suffer from chronic pain.

“The knowledge itself is beneficial,” she said.