The Road to the Summit

By Rajam Roose

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that it’s been five and a half years since I closed my massage practice and left the profession to work full time on the San Diego Pain Summit. Back in 1999 when I graduated massage school and started in this profession, I had no idea that it was going to lead me to where I am today – the founder and organiser of this annual event.

During my years as a massage therapist, I became curious about this idea: What is really happening under my hands when I give a massage?

Sure, there was the explanation about directly changing musculature but I was skeptical of that explanation. Obviously, something was happening – who hasn’t had first time clients who came into the office full of tension and, after so many sessions, their tissues and expressions on their faces became softer and more relaxed?

My curiosity was sparked and I didn’t feel that my massage education gave me all the answers, so I studied under all the most well-known massage educators (in the U.S.) and learned a variety of modalities. Learning all these techniques helped me enjoy being a massage therapist even more – I didn’t have to stop learning and there was always going to be more information to be had.

And I kept learning. What money I didn’t spend on continuing education courses, I spent on textbooks about anatomy and physiology, and kinesiology. Many of these were textbooks used by physical therapy students. I wanted to learn more about the human body and what causes pain in hope that it would help me understand more about how massage and other manual therapies help people.

Still, I wondered, what was it about massage that could be helping my clients? What is it that really helps people learn to either recover from or accept their pain? It wasn’t any one technique – by this point I had learned so many techniques that I was mixing and mashing them up based on what the client seemed to enjoy or felt helped them most.

Then I came across The Sensitive Nervous System by David Butler and WHOA! A whole new world opened up. All I had learned in massage school and in these continuing education classes and books was more about posture, biomechanics, muscle tissue, and nothing about the nervous system! Then I read books such as The Body Has A Mind Of Its Own by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee, The Patient’s Brain by Fabrizio Benedetti, The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran, and many more that highlighted the brain, mind, and nervous system.

After reading so many of these books, it seemed what was really helping my clients had little to do with the massage work itself but more about how I communicated with them, consistency in the experience they had visiting my office, and listening. And the more I learn pain science, the more I recognise that to be true.

A Place For Massage Therapists At The Table

Bronnie Lennox Thompson speaking at San Diego Pain Summit

When I started organising the San Diego Pain Summit, I really wanted to create a space where anyone of any profession could come to talk freely about “not knowing” and be accepted for it. The truth is, we still don’t know a lot about pain yet we’re surrounded by educators and clinicians who claim to understand pain and have the one technique/modality to resolve it in all people. As a friend once told me, “it’s not sexy not having the answer”. People want answers, not questions. However, at San Diego Pain Summit conferences, there are a LOT of questions!

Around 25%-30% of attendees are massage therapists, many who come from Canada and a few who have come from New Zealand. The main reason that the San Diego Pain Summit is multi-disciplinary is because evidence shows us that the more variety of health professionals on a patient care team, the better that patient does. Many of the attendees who represent other specialties understand that massage therapists can be a part of a healthcare team.

Massage therapists are in an interesting position when it comes to healthcare. At least in the U.S., our profession isn’t strictly bound to the U.S. healthcare system. In our work environment, we are expected to spend time speaking with each client and our clients come to us usually looking for advice on lifestyle changes, and this makes it easier for massage professionals to create and foster therapeutic relationships.

What makes the San Diego Pain Summit so accessible to all healthcare professionals is that the talks don’t typically cover specific techniques. Each year, I bring in a few research scientists to share their current research on pain and the rest of the presenters are clinicians from a variety of disciplines who talk about how they’ve created treatment frameworks based on pain research. When presenters come to the stage to speak, they understand that they are speaking to a multi-disciplinary audience and include them in their talks.

Instead of coming to learn about a specific treatment, attendees report learning how to:

  • observe their biases
  • think about how they are connecting with their patients
  • have a better understanding of pain
  • adjust how they formulate their treatment protocols.

Most of all, though, they say how much they enjoy hearing different perspectives from other attendees during breaks and meetups.

The San Diego Pain Summit conferences are unique in this regard. If you would like to learn more, all conferences have been live streamed and recorded since the premier conference in 2015. Recordings from 2015-2017 are free for anyone to watch, just sign up here.

Tip: Watching one or more of these recordings and writing a reflection on what you learnt may contribute towards professional development hours.

The next San Diego Pain Summit will be held on 26-27 February 2022, with livestream access available. Learn more here.

About the Author

Rajam Roose is the CEO and Founder of the San Diego Pain Summit, LLC. She was a massage therapist for 16 years and ran a digital marketing consulting business for massage business owners for five years. Rajam has also published a memoir, Travels With A Road Dog, Hitchhiking The Americas, a travel narrative documenting the 4+ years she lived hitchhiking and vagabonding in four countries.

Photos supplied by Rajam Roose.

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  1. I so love the SDPS, the on-line version is the one to which I am subscribed (being able to attend in person just seems like a fantasy the way the world is). There are some outstanding presenters/presentations, thought provoking and rich with immediately applicable ideas. Best of all for me, you can revisit presentations, they are always accessible.
    I have had quite a bit of email with Rajam for one reason or another, she always so helpful. And I did not know anything at all about the background of the Summit or even that Rajam was a massage therapist, so thanks for this blog.

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