For the first time in its seven-year history, the San Diego Pain Summit will be hosting its 2021 event on Feb. 19-21 completely online because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unlike most virtual conferences where the presenters will speak live, attendees will get a recorded video of their 30-minute presentation before the conference days. After they watched them, they can participate in Q&A discussions live with the presenters for about 45 minutes on the conference days.

Following last year’s San Diego Pain Summit East that was supposed to take place live in Charlotte, North Carolina, in October, founder Rajam Roose learned what to include more in this year’s pain summit.

“I learned a bit about putting together an online event in October,” Roose said in an email with Massage & Fitness. “I tried making it fun by hosting it inside a virtual gaming platform. Many attendees enjoyed that, they particularly liked being able to ‘walk’ up to anyone with their avatar and start a video discussion.”

Roose said that she does not want to “spill the beans” yet about details of the event until late January or early February.

Dr. John Launer, who is the author of “Narrative-Based Medicine in Health and Social Care,” and Dr. Melanie Noel from the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary will be the keynote speakers, with Dr. Launer covering how narrative medicine can be applied to clinical practice.

Created by both Dr. Launer and Caroline Lindsey, his approach, called Conversations Inviting Change, teaches clinicians, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and manual therapists, to be more actively engaging with their patients, treating them as a human being rather than a symptom.

Dr. Noel will be highlighting how trauma in early childhood can pass on to future generations.

melanie noel psychology childhood pain

Dr. Melanie Noel speaks at the 2020 San Diego Pain Summit on how children process pain. Photo: Nick Ng

“During the Feb. 2020 event, I was speaking with Dr. Noel after her presentation on how children process pain, and she was telling me about some other research that she’s been doing which focuses on trauma in children and she’d love to return to talk about that,” Roose said. “I had already schedule Dr. Launer to keynote but was really interested in bringing Dr. Noel in again as well. She’s an amazing presenter and her research on trauma sounded like a great fit.”

Speakers at the 2021 San Diego Pain Summit include:

More details about the presenters and others here.

Dr. Karen Brandon, who is the Regional Clinical Lead in pelvic rehabilitation at Southern California Kaiser Permanente in Fontana, California, had attended nearly all of the previous San Diego Pain Summits.

“Introduced in 2014 by Sandy Hilton, who was the programming director for the one of the APTA component associations, I trusted her suggestion for finding clinical applications for pain science in our field,” Brandon told Massage & Fitness. “It only took one summit and I realized Rajam Roose had not only created an educational phenomenon, but also the way in which she did it, with down-to-earth, practical and interactive dialogue-based sessions and presentations was exactly what I needed to develop further as a practitioner.

“I love the camaraderie shared by people who passionately, respectfully (and sometimes irreverently) challenge themselves and their industry. ”

Karen Brandon PT

Photo courtesy of Dr. Karen Brandon.

Although Brandon said that it was hard for her to decide which presenter she is looking forward to listening, she is “intrigued” about Dr. Noel’s topic of developmental pain among children. “Every year, I feel the speakers and attendees push [all of us] to paradigm shifts needed in health care,” Brandon said.

Lisa Flores, who is a licensed massage therapist in Chattanooga, Tenn., had attended every San Diego Pain Summit since 2016, virtually or in-person. What attracted her to the pain summit was the topic that was missing in her massage education.

“[I] was startled to realize that despite working with so many people who experienced various aches and pains, I did not actually know much about pain!” Flores told Massage & Fitness. “School and various continuing education courses had taught techniques but never addressed what current pain science can teach us about pain, what it is, and why it happens.”

[Read: Why Massage Therapists Should Understand How Pain Works]

lisa flores lmt

Lisa Flores chatting with colleagues at the 2020 San Diego Pain Summit. Photo: Nick Ng

Learning more about pain brought Flores more questions than answers, yet it “shifted” how she work with people.

“I am learning how to listen to my clients better, ask more relevant questions, and clarify intentions/expectations for our sessions. Realizing that my role is first to relate to their pain experience and not their job to understand me try to explain pain (as if!) has been another important shift in learning how to work together,” Flores said. “Increasingly, I feel less pressure to fix someone. When I stay curious about and with my clients, we create more interesting sessions and satisfying outcomes.”

The San Diego Pain Summit had faced some turbulence in its early years, but 2020 had put some last-minute twist to how it will run.

“Biggest challenge has been financial,” Roose said, who had to pay an “obscene cancellation fee” for the San Diego Pain Summit East venue in Charlotte. “The second challenge has been trying to drum up the interest in a virtual event. Most people are tired of being on their computers as it is and so running an event online just adds to screen time overload for people, I think.”

The San Diego Pain Summit started in 2015 with pain expert Dr. Lorimer Moseley from the University of Adelaide and creator of Tame the Beast as the keynote speaker, followed by Dr. Robert Sapolsky in 2016, Dr. Peter O’Sullivan in 2017, Dr. Neil O’Connell in 2018, Dr. Antonio Damasio in 2019, and Dr. Melanie Noel in 2020.

san diego pain summit rubber hand illusion

Tim Beames conducts the rubber hand illusion experiment with physiotherapist Ying Pham at the 2019 San Diego Pain Summit. Photo: Nick Ng

Roose’s light-bulb moment of having a pain summit in early 2014 when she was hosting a manual therapy class with physical therapists Diane Jacobs and Barrett Dorko in San Diego, Calif. A few of the attendees, who were recently graduates of physical therapy, did not really know how to apply the pain science and research into their practice—even though they are familiar with the works by Dr. Ronald Melzack, Dr. Mosely, and Dr. David Butler. Thus, the San Diego Pain Summit was born, an event where manual therapists and other healthcare professionals can learn how to apply research with their practice and patients.

[Read: Neuromatrix Theory of Pain for Manual Therapists]

san diego pain summit dpt students

Doctor of physical therapy students from St. Augustine attended the 2019 San Diego Pain Summit. Photo: Nick Ng

When I stay curious about and with my clients, we create more interesting sessions and satisfying outcomes. ~ Lisa Flores,  LMT

“Attending [the San Diego Pain Summit] has taught me that I  am not alone in my interest of helping people, to consider my biases, become aware of systematic hurdles as well as individual differences that limit how we help and interact with people and be humbled by the effectiveness of simply helping someone feel heard, seen, understood,” Flores said. “There are the skills and techniques within my scope of practice, and then there are the general skills of communicating and listening that influence how care is given and received.

“With the turn toward virtual meetings, I think it’s brilliant how Rajam has woven in movement breaks between presentations.”

“This year, I’m hoping attendees will feel like they have more applicable takeaways of what they can use in the clinic,” Roose said. “Since the event is going to have a strong focus on discussions with the presenters, I hope that attendees will leave feeling inspired, motivated, and a renewed excitement in their work.”

Attendees can register for the 2021 San Diego Pain Summit at

For more stories about previous San Diego Pain Summits, visit here.

james stark 2020 san diego pain summit

“Cheers!” says James Stark, PT, of Aphora Pain Education, who attended the 2020 San Diego Pain Summit. Photo: Nick Ng

Website | + posts

A native of San Diego for nearly 40 years, Nick Ng is an editor of Massage & Fitness Magazine, an online publication for manual therapists and the public who want to explore the science behind touch, pain, and exercise, and how to apply that in their hands-on practice or daily lives.

An alumni from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Graphic Communications, Nick also completed his massage therapy training at International Professional School of Bodywork in San Diego in 2014.

When he is not writing or reading, you would likely find him weightlifting at the gym, salsa dancing, or exploring new areas to walk and eat around Southern California.