2015 San Diego Pain Summit: or What I Did on my Winter Vacation

In late February I went to the first San Diego Pain Summit: Clinical Applications of Pain Science for Manual Therapists conference. Professionally, it was as if I’d died and gone to heaven. It was off the scale amazing.

When Rajam Roose, who deserves the highest praise possible, first announced the event, I decided immediately to do whatever it would take to be there. First, there was the keynote speaker. I have been a fan of Lorimer Moseley, who I describe as a “pain science missionary,” for quite some time, and when I heard that he would be the keynote speaker, I could not pass up an opportunity to hear him in person. Brilliant, funny, personable, and an engaging storyteller, he makes learning pain science fun and painless. I've referred countless clients and massage therapists to his videos and no way would I miss him!

But there was more!

When I looked at the lineup of presenters, it was a Who’s Who of the most prominent pain science based manual therapists. Were I to create a list of the people who, professionally, I’d most like to be with, most of them would be there as a presenter or attending. It promised to be an amazing event.

I was not disappointed. I got to meet a number of people who have mentored, educated, challenged, and encouraged me at a distance. Every one of them was just as wonderful in person as they were through their written words. It was delightful to see two familiar faces again and I got to meet lots of new people in various professions, from all over the U.S., Canada, and six other countries. One unexpected surprise was being approached by several massage therapists who had read things I’d written, said it had helped them learn about the pain science, and that it had influenced them to come to the conference. It was good to know I’ve helped get the pain science out to colleagues and I was glad they were there!

The presentations were excellent. One attendant noted that the room stayed full the entire weekend. People were not missing any of them, an indicator of how much they were enjoying them.

Many people, many professions, one purpose

The conference was multi-disciplinary. Attendants included Physical Therapists (most represented), Massage Therapists (next most represented), Personal Trainers, Athletic Trainers,  Yoga Instructors, Psychologists who worked with chronic pain patients, Chiropractors, Osteopaths, and I believe there may have been a Medical Doctor in attendance. I think that some participants were also Registered Nurses in addition to being manual therapists and it was agreed that we'd like to see more nurses represented next year. In addition, many were also educators, authors, and bloggers. What all had in common was an interest in how to apply pain science to help individuals who live with chronic pain.

One of the most beautiful things about the conference is that everyone mixed together, regardless of occupation. Many of participants are brilliant in their field, have advanced degrees, and some are known internationally. Others had less experience or education or were more new to pain science, yet all were welcome. No one was treated as if they were less, no one was full of themselves. It was one of the nicest groups of people I’ve ever had the opportunity to spend a weekend with. The conversations were intelligent, thought-provoking . . . and funny! I got to meet a lot of folks I’ve come to know through FaceBook discussions and online forums. It was like a “reunion” of people I’d come to know but had never met in real life!

The conference ran very smoothly. Rajam Roose, who got the idea for the conference and organized it pretty much single-handedly, had never done such a thing before and she did an amazing job. [By the way: special thanks to her husband Matt who has been so supportive!] She consulted with people who had attended many conferences and picked their brains about what made for a good conference experience. Presentations were long enough that the speaker could speak in depth with time for questions at the end. Between sessions there were half hour breaks that allowed for conversation, snack and bathroom breaks, or getting outside for a bit.

Rajam lives in San Diego and hosting the conference there in late February was a brilliant idea. Many North Americans and others in the northern hemisphere are happy to get a break from the cold weather at that time of year. The couple of Australians in attendance were escaping their summer heat. Stepping outside into the mild San Diego weather and having lunch near the water was refreshing and provided a nice break between sessions.

Friday evening there was an optional networking event. The food was exceptional and served buffet style with quite a variety to choose from. One could stand around and chat with others while nibbling off a small plate or sit down at a table to eat and converse while a musician provided beautiful Spanish guitar in the background. A photographer was available in the lobby for us to have photographs taken to remember the occasion.

Not a place to learn techniques, but to learn why your techniques work

The only complaint anyone seemed to make (besides the lack of WiFi due, ironically, to an upgrade in service being under construction) is that some attendants thought they would be learning hands-on techniques. While Cory Blickenstaff did a demonstration of “edgework” during his presentation, modalities themselves were not discussed or demonstrated. This conference was not intended to be a place to learn modalities, but a place to learn why and how your modalities worked. It was not a place to learn basic pain science, which it was assumed participants already understood, but a place to learn more detail about current research and how to take what has been learned in pain science and put it into practice in a clinical setting. Presenters and attendants practice in a variety of settings and use a variety of approaches, but all of us work with individuals with chronic pain and were focused on how to be more effective, no matter what we did. One of the common recurring themes of the conference was communication: how to listen carefully and attentively to the client/patient, how to interact with them in a way that is respectful, how to meet them where they are at and try to give them information in a way that makes sense and is useful and meaningful to them.

Inspiring experience!

I have not had the opportunity to attend many conferences in my life but this was the most amazing experience of my professional career and almost everyone agreed it was the best conference they’d ever attended. It was certainly the first of its kind in the United States and I basked in the opportunity to mix with well-informed people in a variety of professions. I think it’s especially good for massage therapists to have the opportunity to mix with people in more established professions and for those in other healthcare professions to get to know massage therapists who are well-informed and serious about being part of the team when it comes to pain rehabilitation.

I came home feeling inspired and renewed. At times I can feel a bit discouraged, but the conference made it real that I’m not alone. There is an amazing online community of truly brilliant practioners who are generous in sharing their knowledge with those who truly want to understand. There’s a lot of pain in the world. I know that we can’t do everything for everyone but I also know that some of it can be reduced and even eliminated. I now know that I’m part of a small but growing army of manual therapists who are dedicated to getting pain science out to clinicians, patients, and the general public, so that we can help alleviate human suffering. The conference felt like an historic event and I'm honored to have been a part of it. I look forward to next year’s conference. Robert Sapolsky has been confirmed and V. S. Ramachandran and is awaiting confirmation as speakers, as have a number of other very interesting presenters. The list is not yet finalized. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

I’ll be writing about each of the presentations separately and will link to them here as that happens.

A deep, deep Thank You! to Rajam Roose for making this happen and to every single person who was a part of it.  

For those who missed it, videos of the presentations can be purchased singly or for the entire conference. Unfortunately, Dr. Moseley’s presentation is not available because he discussed some research that has not yet been published, but all the others are. I recommend them highly! You can watch some free sample clips here. (Yes, we all did the La Hoya clap throughtout the conference and Jason Erickson, massage therapist, was brilliant as MC.)

Here are others' comments and reports (in no particular order) about the conference. I'll add to this if I encounter any more.

Report from Nick Ng at TellUs News

Todd Hargrove of Better Movement shares his thoughts (You're welcome, Todd!)

Diane Jacobs reviews the Summit

Joletta Belton, health blogger, My Cuppa Jo, reports

Alison Sim, Australian osteopath, reports at Beyond Mechanical Pain

Arnold Warkentin: Summary of Cory Blickenstaff's "Edgework"

Arnold Warkentin: Summary of Eric Kruger's "Making Progress in the Face of Uncertain Pain, Part 1

Joe Brence wore a camera and uploaded his presentation. Warning: you might get dizzy!

David Butler of NOI Group

Karen Litzy shares her experience on YouTube (Comments on the Summit start at the 10:20 mark)

Tweets, Day 2 Courtesy of Keith Eric Grant, Ph.D.

Tweets, Day 3 Courtesy of Keith Eric Grant, Ph.D.