The Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief

In partnership with
Professor Barbara K. Bruce, Ph.D., L.P.
Mayo Clinic College of Science and Medicine, Mayo Clinic
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Course No. 9462
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Learn how the body processes pain.
  • numbers Discover which behaviors can lessen your pain.
  • numbers Get tips on how to build an appropriate health care team.
  • numbers Find out how to develop your unique pain-management plan.

Course Overview

If your life or the life of someone you love has been hijacked by pain, you’re not alone. Pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined. In fact, one out of every three U.S. adults lives with chronic pain triggered by arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, disc problems, fibromyalgia, headaches, sciatica, or other causes. That’s why the experts at Mayo Clinic are working with The Great Courses to craft this research-based guide to coping with chronic pain, giving you access to the same knowledge that has made Mayo Clinic’s highly successful pain management programs so effective.

Almost all of us have experienced acute pain at some time in our lives from an accident, surgery, or dental work, for example. Your doctor most likely prescribed short-term medication, and when the cause of the pain healed, the pain itself and the need for medication were gone. You went back to your normal life.

But chronic pain is different. This is pain that persists for months or years after the initial pain source has healed, or is caused by long-term illness or disease. Or the cause might never be determined. This is pain that can transform a child, teen or adult from an outgoing, engaging individual to a person who wants nothing more than to lie alone in bed all day. This is pain that can rob you of your vitality, confidence, friendships, intimacy, and even your will to live.

But it does not have to be that way.

In The Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief, Barbara K. Bruce, Ph.D., L.P., a clinical health psychologist in the Mayo Clinic Department of Psychiatry and Psychology and clinical director of Mayo Clinic’s Fibromyalgia Treatment Program and Chronic Abdominal Pain Program, provides a tried-and-true framework for coping with chronic pain caused by most sources. While acknowledging that everyone looks for a cure and wants their pain to come to an immediate and complete end, she points to a different approach: “I don’t want you to wait for a cure or pain relief before you move back into your life,” she says. “I want you to begin living your life today.”

In these 12 lectures, Mayo Clinic’s easy-to-understand scientific explanations and biology-based suggestions—supported by guest experts and helpful visual aids—can help you create a vibrant and fulfilling future for yourself, in spite of chronic pain.

Among a multitude of helpful solutions and approaches presented, Dr. Bruce specifically covers:

  • Creating a pain management program: Dr. Bruce shows you how to create your own individual program, utilizing the science behind what causes pain, as well as what behaviors can make it better or worse. She also explains the aspects of health that form the basis of a successful program, how to develop SMART goals, which non-traditional therapies may work for you, and the pros and cons of a structured program, always keeping in mind that these elements must be enacted with the help of a medical professional.
  • Why opioids don’t work for chronic pain: While medication can be highly successful for short-term pain and recovery from temporary injuries, opioid painkillers are ultimately not a healthy solution for long-term, non-cancer pain. Dr. Bruce looks at the research that demonstrates why this is and offers healthier long-term solutions.
  • The importance of other people: While we might consider pain a personal problem, Dr. Bruce looks at the social dimensions of pain, exploring how family and social support affects physical health, how mood both affects and is affected by pain and how this can impact your life, and how to build a health care team that combines professionals, caregivers, and other forms of social support.

“It’s All In Your Head.”

Because people dealing with chronic pain don’t always look “sick,” well-meaning friends and loved ones sometimes wonder if the pain isn’t “just all in your head.” If it’s all in your head, couldn’t you just “think” the pain away and get back to normal if you really wanted to? If only . . .

And yet, recent research on the physiological relationship between mind and body has revealed more truth to the “all in your head” concept than you might realize: While the experience of pain is a very real physical phenomenon, that phenomenon occurs in the central nervous system. What if we could alter how the brain experiences that pain?

As Dr. Bruce discusses these new theories, you’ll come to understand:

  • the various parts of the central and peripheral nervous systems and the role each plays in the Descending Pain Modulatory System
  • the extraordinary complexities in your brain’s interpretation and management of pain signals
  • the role played by the spine in managing pain signals
  • neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to recruit extra power for processing pain signals
  • the gate control theory of pain and how it manifests in our daily lives
  • the use of “virtual reality” to reduce pain sensations
  • the phenomenon of central sensitization—dysregulation of the central nervous system—and its role in various causes of chronic pain
  • how a person with a pain-prone phenotype experiences pain

The Complicated Relationship Between Stress and Pain

We’ve all experienced the physical sensations of stress at some point in our lives: knotted stomach, pounding heart, sweating, headache, insomnia. But for those coping with chronic pain, the relationship between stress and physical symptoms is considerably more complex.

Dr. Bruce provides an in-depth examination of the body’s physiological responses to stress, including the complicated relationship between hormones and chronic pain; the ways excessive stress can “turn up the volume” on pain signals; the impact of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues on the nervous system; and how to reduce stressors that can negatively impact your experience of pain. Not only does she look at physiological cause and effect, but Dr. Bruce also probes the complicated combination of benefit and stress that can come from social relationships, discussing tools to keep interpersonal stress to a minimum, how chronic pain can be affected by emotional upheaval like grief or PTSD, and the negative impact of social isolation.

Not only will The Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief give you the information and tools you need to create and implement your unique pain-management plan with your physician, but the lectures conclude with experts guiding you through physical exercises and a meditation practice that you can refer to at any time. You will no longer need to postpone life until your pain goes away; with this course, your pain-management program begins now.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Pain Matters
    One out of every three people suffers from chronic pain-pain that either never goes away or returns again and again. Although pain is a universal experience, there are ways you can manage pain effectively - and live an enjoyable and fulfilling life. Learn from case studies of people who have dealt with chronic pain and how their experiences may help you. x
  • 2
    What Is Pain?
    The latest neurological research reveals that the brain's physical, emotional, and cognition centers all play significant roles in our perception of pain. The fascinating neurology of pain reveals why the most effective pain-control programs address the body, the mind, and the body-mind interaction. x
  • 3
    Common Causes of Chronic Pain
    Many conditions can lead to chronic pain, but one more recently discovered cause is central sensitization. This syndrome is caused by dysregulation of the spinal cord, the brain's thalamus, hypothalamus, and amygdala, and alterations in how pain is experienced. Central sensitization is thought to be the underlying cause of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and more. x
  • 4
    Medication for Chronic Pain: Why and Why Not
    What are the short-term benefits and the long-term risks of using anti-inflammatories, analgesics, opioids, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and other pharmacological treatments for chronic pain? Learn when drugs can be helpful and when it's time to address the bigger goal of successfully managing chronic pain-and managing life-without them. x
  • 5
    How Exercise Helps with Chronic Pain
    Study after study has shown that exercise releases endorphins, improves blood flow to the brain, reduces fatigue, improves sleep quality, and even helps build emotional resilience. But what's the most significant issue in developing an appropriate exercise program for a person with chronic pain? Moderation. Moderation. And more moderation. Learn why. x
  • 6
    Manage Your Stress to Manage Your Pain
    No matter its cause, stress signals your body to release cortisol-its primary fight-or-flight hormone-which increases your perception of pain, causes more stress, and even doubles the symptoms of pain that you experience. Learn how to break this cycle by identifying and reducing the real stressors in your life and adopting new behaviors that reduce stress and pain. x
  • 7
    Social Support for Pain Management
    Medical research consistently shows that people with rich social support networks are healthier in almost every way. But you might be surprised to learn what type of social support doctors have found most helpful for those with chronic pain, and who benefits. Learn how to initiate, develop, and nurture these significant relationships. x
  • 8
    How to Sleep When You Have Pain
    People with chronic pain are more likely to have sleep problems that impact their daily lives and are three times more likely to be diagnosed with a sleep disorder. Recent research reveals many complex relationships between pain and sleep-and the best ways to get the sleep needed to lessen stress and pain. x
  • 9
    The Vicious Cycle of Pain and Mood
    Symptoms of chronic pain are rarely stable, leading to good days and bad days - and unpredictable changes in mood. It's impossible to completely disentangle chronic pain from mood, especially since the emotions and pain that you feel travel along the same nerve pathways through your body. But help is available for mood disorders, and you can learn how to minimize their impact on your life. x
  • 10
    Building a Pain Management Team
    Do you wish you had one person to lead your health care team? One person to coordinate, explain, and integrate information from your other doctors-to explain all your options and develop the best possible pain-management plan for you? You do. Learn why your primary care physician is almost always best for the job. x
  • 11
    Creating a Pain Management Plan
    Use everything you've learned in the first 10 lectures of this course to create your own effective pain management plan - one that meets your personal goals and identifies the lifestyle interventions that are most appropriate for you in the areas of exercise, stress reduction, social support, improved sleep, and emotional health. x
  • 12
    Active Sessions: Exercise and Relaxation
    Begin two aspects of your pain management plan right now. Let experts gently guide you through physical exercise and meditation practices that will start you on your journey. Learn how to calm your busy mind and improve your chances of directing it where you want it to go-toward relaxation and comfort. x

Lecture Titles

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  • Download 12 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 144-page printed course guidebook
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  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 144-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos and illustrations
  • Suggested reading
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Barbara K. Bruce

About Your Professor

Barbara K. Bruce, Ph.D., L.P.
Mayo Clinic College of Science and Medicine, Mayo Clinic
Barbara K. Bruce, Ph.D., L.P., is a clinical health psychologist in the Mayo Clinic Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, and Associate Professor of Psychology at the Mayo Clinic College of Science and Medicine, Mayo Clinic. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where she also earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. In addition, she holds a Master’s Degree in...
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The Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 53.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Okay as an Introduction to Pain Management Of all The Great Courses I have previously viewed in CD format, and there have been over two dozen, this is one of my least favorite. It is very basic but I did learn more about how pain is caused, and the importance of sleep, than I previously knew. I have already been through a pain management program, and did not benefit from information provided about this. I have fortunately avoided taking opiods, and have had no M.D. wanting to prescribe them for me anyway, so have no quibble with the instructor's strong stance against them. I do not touch medical marijuana myself, but agree with another reviewer that the pros and cons of this option as a potential source of pain relief should have been discussed in course material. It was not. The instructor, Barbara Bruce, is definitely knowledgeable in the topic. But, as presented, the information provided is not very robust or advanced.
Date published: 2020-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Non-Medicinal Pain Relief Possibilities We all experience pain at times in our lives. This course deals with the long-lasting kind – chronic pain. We learn more about the difference between acute (duration of less than 3 months) and chronic pain (long lasting) in the early lectures, and we learn that a surprisingly large number of people (one in three adults) suffer from chronic pain. We also find out why certain medications that are often used for intense acute pain (particularly opiates) are not recommended for those experiencing chronic pain. Dr Bruce cites a great deal of evidence and strong arguments to support these claims:   The use of opiates for chronic pain is inadvisable because the patient will build tolerance to the opiates, will need to increase the dosages, and there will be downward spiraling in effective treatment of the pain, in addition to the risk of addiction.   Chronic pain may be dealt with treatment other than medication or with combination treatment, and she has a toolkit of methods to help cope with one’s chronic pain. Dr Bruce, a Pain Psychologist, also offers us encouragement and helpful advice in striving to resume one’s “before pain” life, not allowing some existing limitations to define who we are.  “We” are NOT our “Pain.”  Some of the treatments discussed are the use of TENS, acupuncture, massage therapy, Tai Chi, meditation, yoga, breath techniques, and guided imagery.   Some reviewers have expressed disappointment that Cannabis wasn’t mentioned as a possible treatment for chronic pain. Unfortunately, there have not been adequate studies over a period of time re the efficacy and safety of the use of Cannabis in treatment for chronic pain. This course was released in 2017 – It wasn’t until the passage of the Farm Bill in Dec, 2018 that the DEA lifted the prohibition on industrial hemp. There continue to be some murky issues re the legal use of Cannabis (not legal in a few states) and re the regulation and contents of the product.   One of the concepts that was new to me, addressed in Lecture 3, was “central sensitization,” which encompasses a number of ailments, among them being fibro, restless leg syndrome, interstitial cystitis … numerous others.  A lot of people will find some of their issues under this umbrella.   Dr Bruce introduces us to the SMART system for goal planning, (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timetable) which she stresses is important and explains why.    Lecture 12 is an interactive treat – Specific physical exercises are demonstrated, and then, the last offering is Dr Bruce leading us in guided imagery.  (Loved it!)   I thoroughly enjoyed this course.  I now have a much better understanding of the subject matter after spending only six hours listening to/watching Dr. Bruce.  She was well informed and articulate, likable, warm and compassionate. I thought she was a very effective presenter.  There were several lectures that were given, in part, by specialists – one to more fully explain the sensation of pain, one who was able to discuss the effects of medications, and one who elaborated on the use of physical therapy / exercise.   I chose the video version for this course.  There were some awesome graphics early in the course, but then only occasionally after that, and there were the demonstrations of exercises.  Most of the course would be fine in audio, however, for those who prefer that medium.  The guide book is impressively comprehensive. .    Not only do I highly recommend this course to others,  I think it is a very important course that can help those who deal with chronic pain, either directly or indirectly.   Following the advice given herein could even help to stem the numbers of opiate-related tragedies we currently face in our nation.
Date published: 2020-07-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mixed results As a person who has suffered severe chronic pain for decades, I had high expectations for this course. Unfortunately, those expectations were not met. Dr. Bruce's presentation was professional, and careful: not quite boring, but not far from it either. I was hoping for new information on the subject, but can't say I encountered much beyond a point or two. I have to qualify that, because I have done much prior research myself, looking for answers to my particular situation. I do recommend this course for people that are new to, or uninformed regarding chronic pain, because there is a lot of good information contained within. If you are knowledgeable about the subject; then maybe not.
Date published: 2020-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very informative and engaged presentation Good coVerage and straight talk from a compassionate pro.
Date published: 2019-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr.Bruce excellent presentation of course material
Date published: 2019-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Presents some very helpful information to help my arthritis in the hip joints.
Date published: 2019-04-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very good presenter, but very basic. While the course was aptly presented, I was disappointed that progressive and well established methods of pain control were not addressed. To me the six hours that i devoted was a waste of time. I’m a natural health doctor and was curious if the Mayo Clinic had anything new to reveal, but to my dismay this course didn’t offer anything of real value. There are many efficacious modalities that work extremely well that are backed by scientific and empirical data that were not mentioned. It’s too bad, this could have been a valuable course.
Date published: 2019-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best DVD about pain wow. This DVD changed my perspective related to pain. Very well explained, super useful info, engaging, summary after each lesson, positive attitude of the professor. Life changer.
Date published: 2019-03-31
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