Reframing Pain

A Conversation with San Diego Pan Summit Founder Rajam Roose

By Leslie A. Young, PhD

The term pain research tends to either inspire or scare. When Rajam Roose talks about contemporary pain research, the term rolls off her tongue and her excitement for the subject gives life and depth to it.
Roose is a massage therapist, a digital marketing expert, and a lifelong learner. She’s also the CEO and founder of the San Diego Pain Summit, now in planning for its fifth year. The summit showcases clinicians and researchers from around the globe who underscore that pain is very much a body-mind concept and that solely manipulating soft tissue or prescribing opioids aren’t effective solutions. Contemporary pain science research shows that acknowledging individual pain and helping them confront it can help contribute to positive outcomes.
The 2018 summit in February drew more than 100 attendees, including chiropractors, massage therapists, medical doctors, osteopaths, and physical therapists from as far away as Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
The underpinnings of this research can be overwhelming, but fascinating for manual therapists. “There are actually a lot of MTs who like this information,” Roose says. “That’s why I also created online courses so they can start learning some of it at home.”


Roose’s career path has had a number of speed bumps that would have been brick walls for most people. A native of Huntsville, Alabama, she graduated from the Tennessee Institute of Therapeutic Massage in Hendersonville in 1999. “I worked part time in two massage places because I wasn’t interested in having my own business.” But when both closed, Roose opened a private practice and realized she was pretty good at it. She managed her practice for three years until she moved to San Diego.
She taught for eight months at Remington College Massage Therapy in San Diego, then it closed. She was brought in as a CE provider to teach at San Diego’s International Professional School of Bodywork, and it closed too. During these stops and starts, she worked to jump through the hoops required of California massage therapists to practice and open their own businesses back then. Finally, she was able to open her own practice and operated it successfully for eight years.
In the meantime, Roose says, “I started studying the nervous system and learning more about it.” Her curiosity took her to resources such as The Sensitive Nervous System by David Butler, an Australian physical therapist. She also learned dermoneuromodulation from founder Diane Jacobs, a Canadian physiotherapist.
“I started to read more work about the brain and the mind, research that helped explain pain,” Roose says. “This made me realize there were a lot of things that were mysterious and that we as MTs didn’t know about—but I found science had looked at them. This got me on the journey.”


When she’s not polishing summit plans, Roose runs a digital marketing service for small business owners. “There’s bad information out there all around,” she says. “I did massage for 16 years, and I feel an affinity for massage business owners.”
Her entrepreneurial spirit complemented her self-study and inspired her to coordinate a couple of integrated workshops for massage therapists and physical therapists. One day, listening to an instructor-participant exchange, she realized there was a disconnect between practitioners learning the biopsychosocial model of pain science and actually knowing how to apply it in practice.
“This was the biggest lightbulb moment in my life,” Roose says. “I knew then I wanted to do a conference, and I knew instantly who I wanted to speak at the conference: people whose blogs and forums I’d been following.”
Roose knew her conference’s inaugural keynote speaker would have to be exceptional. To many, there’s no bigger name in pain science than Lorimer Moseley, PhD, from the University of South Australia. He’s had a career as a clinical and research physiotherapist, and he’s now a professor of clinical neurosciences and physiotherapy chair at the university’s School of Health Sciences. Roose contacted Moseley right away. “I told him my idea for a conference where people could come and learn about current pain research and how could we apply that knowledge in our practices. I wanted people to be able to develop frameworks.” To her delight, Moseley was keen to participate. “When I asked the other speakers, they wanted to share the stage with Moseley, so they all said yes.”
Being a one-woman show has its plusses and minuses. Roose excels at the role, though. She doesn’t want the summit to get so large she can’t handle the group; she says 200 is her maximum goal. She partners with a select number of talented people in hosting the event. Even her audio-visual manager is specialized and regularly shares his wisdom from producing several major California health-care-related events throughout the year. “He says the really big corporate health conferences he’s done have all had breakout sessions with all the topics I’ve been covering since 2015.”


The summit tagline is “Bridging the chasm between clinical practice and pain research,” but Roose is also bridging the chasm between integrated practitioners in some ingenious ways.
For instance, when crafting attendee nametags, Roose doesn’t include attendees’ credentials or organizations, so people have to talk to one another to learn about each other. “Otherwise, I noticed they would clique up. The physios would be in one corner and the MTs in the other corner—it automatically happened—and I don’t want people cliquing by profession.” The result is practitioners learn about their counterparts and connect in a personal way, and that knowledge levels the playing field and empowers dialogue.
Thanks to her background, Roose knows where massage therapists are coming from and what’s important to them. “As massage therapists, we have the ability to be with our clients in a way no other practitioners do.” She says her knowledge of pain science has “helped me focus and helped me be more cognizant when communicating with the client. I’ve tried to work on becoming a better listener. Even online, you see MTs saying ‘I give the client the kind of massage I would want someone to give me.’ Well, the client probably doesn’t want the kind of massage you want! Listening is helpful.” Quality of touch and intent play into the wellness equation as well. “Research shows that if you sit with somebody and give them your full attention, it actually helps improve their health,” Roose says. “So many of us just don’t do that.”
She also encourages massage therapists to follow her lead and apply research to clinical practice: “The switch is I’m not changing what I’m doing. I’m changing how I think about what I’m doing.”
Roose wants knowledge gleaned through the summit to be broadly beneficial, hence the summit’s eclectic attendee list. “I’d like to change how health care treats pain and I’d like to have more of these concepts and frameworks introduced into general patient care and client care. When I choose speakers, I’m really targeting both MTs and PTs. And, actually, PTs have more contacts in the health-care profession to make that change and more direct access to physicians and chiros than MTs.”
She says she all too often hears massage therapists saying, “Why do I need to learn research?” Her answer is simple and direct: “It can help your practice. It helps you stand out and you’re better able to work with other practitioners like PTs and physicians. Most people don’t care about our education. They assume if you’re running a massage business, you know what you’re doing. All the clients who ask questions have ‘why?’ questions. Some of this research we’re still learning and we may not understand fully some of the questions at play, but we can tell clients: ‘Here’s what we know so far.’ ”

Leslie A. Young, PhD, is editor-at-large for Massage & Bodywork magazine and ABMP’s vice president of communication and professional outreach. Contact her at