The San Diego Pain Summit attracts massage therapists from many countries who wants to be more informed about their practice from research and other healthcare disciplines.
By Nick Ng
Every season of Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead often have a plot twist that totally catches fans off-guard. Well, I think the same can be said about this year’s San Diego Pain Summit. Not only did it took place at The Dana on Mission Bay (much more convenient for the guests who are staying there) instead of the usual venue across the street in the past three years, we also had a special Pain Panel that shared the experience of pain from the patients’ perspectives.
By Nick Ng
Back in 2015, I had no idea that the San Diego Pain Summit would sprout into an international conference, branching to different manual therapists and other healthcare professionals in different countries. While it is still quite young, it has already attracted the attention of several of the world's leading pain and related research, including Professor Lorimer Moseley, Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Professor Peter O'Sulllivan, and Dr. Melissa Farmer. How the founder Rajam Roose, who is a former massage therapist of more than 11 years in San Diego, California, corralled these brilliant minds together and coordinated the complexity of legalities, logistics, and lodgings without gnawing her fingers to the bone is beyond my understanding. But the Pain Summit is moving on to their fourth year!
Unlike most fitness and massage events I had attended, what is still unique about the San Diego Pain Summit is the overlapping of various disciplines in manual therapy, personal training and fitness, and psychology. Many of the presenters and educators were able to bridge basic science and clinical research with hands-on practice. You won’t find many vendors trying to sell you trinkets, “tools,” and tonics there; instead, you’ll find plenty of practitioners who are curious about pain science and applying such knowledge to their patients and practice—should you choose to be a social butterfly. But how do you bridge that gap between science and practice?
By Nick Ng
If you have experienced back stiffness, chances are, the experience is more than just “stiff” muscles or joints. Pain researchers from The University of South Australia recently published their study that suggests back stiffness does not necessarily reflect actual stiffness of the back muscles or spine. Rather, the stiffness that you feel is more likely a perception of the nervous system, a way to protect your back from danger whether it is real or perceived.
By Nick Ng, BA, CMT
Oftentimes we see blogs and websites about pain, rehabilitation, and exercise from various healthcare and fitness professionals. However, we don’t often read or hear stories from the patients’ or clients’ side of their experience and knowledge. Clinicians and trainers sometimes get caught up in facts, data, and and their own beliefs that they forget about the people whom they see almost daily.
Not only do these people have chronic pain (or have conquered their pain), but they also have a high interest in understanding their nemesis. So in no particular order of favorites, these four blogs deserve a regular read and share to understand what is going among those who are or were in chronic pain.
By Nick Ng
If you could watch yourself getting a massage and you have back pain, would that be more effective in reducing pain than watching something else or simply close your eyes like most people? Four researchers from four different universities in Germany decided to find out.
Tone and style of delivery is important when speaking, but in cyberspace, not so much when you’re providing information and sharing knowledge.
By Alice Sanvito, LMT
Many people may consider physicist Stephen Hawkings to be one of the brightest minds in the history of modern physics. Even with his huge contribution to his field and our understanding of the universe, some people, including his colleagues, would still shred his writings.
“Cosmic Clowning: Stephen Hawking's ‘new’ theory of everything is the same old CRAP” Title of an article by John Horgan, director of the Center for Science Writing at Stevens Institute of Technology 
“The anthropic principle has always struck me as so dumb that I can't understand why anyone takes it seriously.” John Horgan commenting on Hawkings’ writings
“The more I ponder the physical part of Schrðdinger's theory, the more disgusting it appears to me.” Famous quote from Werner Heisenberg, German theoretical physicist 
“If one has to stick to this damned quantum jumping, then I regret ever having been involved in this thing.” Erwin Schrödinger 
“The arguments apparently got very heated. . . these often ended when Hawking said ‘rubbish.’ ‘When Hawking says “rubbish,”’ he said, ‘you've lost the argument.’” 
Why are these physicists so rude?
Hardly any toxins. That is unless you're exposed to high levels of chemicals, such as chloride, arsenic, mercury, and lead, almost everyday in your work or living environment. But if you live in a typical neighborhood in a First World society, like most parts of the U.S., Canada, and Sweden, then your chances of being constantly exposed to deadly levels of “toxins” is likely to be very low. However, there is a common misconception among massage therapists that massage therapy can “get rid of toxins” or drinking more water help “flush toxins out,” but that isn't exactly how our body works. Also, it is not our responsibility or business to decide whether a client or patient needs to get “detoxed” or not. Unless you are a qualified toxicologist, this is outside of our scope of practice.
By Nick Ng
“If you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” ~ Paul Mooney, comedian
This morning, I saw two posts on Facebook that address a very prevalent myth that many massage therapists still believe. Alice Sanvito, a massage therapist in St. Louis, Missouri, quoted someone who made big claims that “lactic acid and cellular waists (yes, that's what was written) wring from the muscles and become accessible to the lymphatic system for easy detoxing after a massage with proper hydration. Without hydration after deep tissue massage results in toxins and acids staying in the muscles resulting it soreness and even headaches.”
Another asked, “How do we address the overwhelming ignorance of our field?” and used the lactic acid release debate as an example. In fact, this shouldn't even be a debate, no more than debating whether our planet is spherical or flat. It's somewhat entertaining to read the comments this early in the morning because they're not scripted like “The Walking Dead” or a Trevor Noah stand-up. That's why I don't watch TV or even own one.
I don't know where the idea that lactic acid is a toxin and can be squeegeed out of your muscles like cleaning your car's windshield come from. What I do know is that massage therapists — even myself occasionally — need to review and understand basic human physiology so that we don't tell our clients, patients, colleagues, and other healthcare professionals such outdated and unsupported beliefs.
By Nick Ng
Like eating pizza and drinking wine, running should also be done in moderation if we want to reduce your risk in developing hip and knee osteoarthritis. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that recreational runners had a lower incidence of knee and hip osteoarthritis than competitive/elite runners and sedentary and non-running folks. “These results indicated that a more sedentary lifestyle or long exposure to high-volume and/or high-intensity running are both associated with hip and/or knee [osteoarthritis]. However, it was not possible to determine whether these associations are causative or confounded by other risk factors, such as previous injury,” the authors reported. (1)
By Nick Ng
Many therapists believe that having a “normal” spinal curve is associated with less or no back pain. Thus, people with too much or too little lordosis are at a higher risk of getting low back pain. However, much of the research in the past 20-plus years do not support such causative relationship.
In fact, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in The Spine Journal seem to support the idea that the lack of lumbar lordotic curve angle (LLCA) is indicative of low back pain — that is, IF you only glance at the abstract. Researchers from Seoul, South Korea, reviewed 13 studies — which were only observational studies such as cohort, case-control, and cross-sectional — that totaled almost 800 low back pain subjects and 927 healthy controls. When the data are pooled together, they found that those with low back pain have a lower LLCA than those with no low back pain. (1) While this is generally what the researchers concluded, there is more to the story.
By Nick Ng
Athletes — especially those who perform activities like marathons and Tour de France — produce a huge amount of lactate compared to most non-athletes. (1) But since cancer cells thrive on lactate as their primary source of fuel, wouldn't that process increase ultramarathoners' and similar endurance athletes' risk of cancer?
A recent research published in Carinogenesis examined the role of lactate on cancer growth (San-Millán and Brooks). In one section of the paper, the authors from the University of Colorado School of Medicine reviewed how exercise and its adaptation could help increase lactate clearance in skeletal muscles, which could reduce the fueling to cancer cells. The authors identified lactate as a primary contributor to angiogenesis, metastasis, protection from the immune system, resisting cell death (apotosis), and sustained glycolysis. (2)
By Nick Ng
A recent NPR article touted that spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) “can alleviate back pain” in its title based on a recent systematic review and meta-analysis that was published in JAMA recently. (1,2) The story stated that “patients reported greater ease and comfort engaging in two day-to-day activities — such as finding they could walk more quickly, were having less difficulty turning over in bed or were sleeping more soundly.”
Despite the benefits, a closer look at the review itself reveals that the NPR news report do not accurately reflect what the researchers found and reported, which misinforms both clinicians and patients in pain about what the evidence of spinal manipulation treatment (SMT) actually says. In other words, the study do not look favorably for SMT for acute low back pain.
As a massage therapist who works primarily with relatively healthy clients in a spa or house-call environment, I never thought massage therapy has a pretty big role in mental health care. I mean, when someone is suffering from PTSD, Kurt-Cobain level of depression, or high enough anxiety that makes them want to rip paper slowly in strips all day long, I would imagine they would seek help from a qualified psychologist, psychiatrist, or even a chaplain or rabbi.
But a massage therapist? Even the “registered” subspecies? I wouldn't imagine. But how do massage therapists play a role in working with patients or clients with mental health issues?
By Nick Ng
Three massage therapists walk into a bar and saw that the bartender is grimacing in pain with one hand on his right lower back. Massage therapist A asks, “Hi Fernando, what's bothering you?”
Fernando replies, “My lower back has been hurting for more than a week, and it seems to worse everyday. I take painkillers occasionally during work, but the pain comes back after I close the bar.”
Massage therapist A thought, “Maybe his quadratus lumborum and psosas are tight. Look at his hip. He has an anterior pelvic tilt and is leaning toward his right.”
Massage therapist B, who remembered that Fernando had went through a bad divorce last year, has been working as a bartender at this busy bar for over 12 years, and never complained about back pain in the past six years, thought, “His back may be tight, but after what he has gone through, maybe his back pain all in his head.”
Massage therapist C, however, asked Fernando, “Have you seen a doctor or physiotherapist? How have you been recently? Did you sleep well last night?”
There is a tendency of us to identify the cause of someone's pain with a narrow, biased perspective. While there is no way of knowing exactly what caused the bartender's back pain just by looking at him, considering his lifestyle, or reading his vitals, taking considerations of various factors — hence the accepted term “biopsychosocial” to describe diseases and pain — and how they interact with each other can help us decide the best treatment plan and how we communicate with a particular client or patient.
By Nick Ng
For many years, I used to think low back pain is a muscle or spine problem or pinched nerves in the spine. After having read much of the history of pain science and the research by Dr. Ronald Melzack, Dr. Patrick Wall, and Dr. Joel Katz (gate-control theory, neuromatrix theory, phantom pain), low back pain is much more than just “something is wrong with my tissues.” (1,2,3) Although psychosocial factors can affect pain intensity and the perception of pain in general,(4,5) sometimes low back pain can primarily be caused by biological factors, such as irritated or “entrapped” cluneal nerves.
By Nick Ng
Maybe bodybuilders and those who just want to get buff should include stretching as part of their workout routine. Who knew that stretching at a certain intensity could help elicit muscle hypertrophy? A team of researchers from UBC Okanagan in Kelowna, British Columbia found that six weeks of stretch training creates a “strong enough stimuli to increase muscle thickness and fascicle length and decrease pennation angle” in the lateral and medial gastrocnemii without changing the maximum voluntary contraction of during plantar flexion. (1)
By Jamie Johnston, RMT
It was time for a career change — or rather a career improvement. There was an opportunity to become a first-aid attendant at a sawmill I used to work at, so I took two weeks off dove into the course. It was intense and I was learning to do things I never thought I would actually do to a person. Then, I got the job and the real learning started.
Imagine being responsible for 150 people per shift in a huge industrial place where machines can take a tree and pound it into sawdust. That thought scared the crap out of me. I had no idea if I'd be able to handle the situations I would get thrown into. But one of the senior first aid guys gave me a great piece of advice: “You gotta learn somewhere, so it might as well be here.”
By Nick Ng
It seems like every week there is a new ad on social media that touts its product can “fix” text neck, which is often blamed for neck and back pain. News reports, tweets, and medical claims — mostly from chiropractors — all tell a similar story: “Texting Can Damage Your Spine.” Even some personal trainers jumped on the bandwagon to try to “reverse” text neck with exercise.
However, there isn't any strong or good evidence suggesting that text neck — where your neck looks like this gentlemen on the left — or neck curvature is a reliable indicator for neck or back pain.
By Nick Ng
While my Facebook feed was flooded with shares of the Association of Massage Therapy's research finding of massage therapy for various health issues last week, I stumbled upon an interest Tweet from PainScience's Paul Ingraham:
This led me to probe a little deeper into AMT's research summary. Well, a “little deeper” led to a “lot deeper” than I like.
By Nick Ng, BA, CMT
Despite the advances in our understanding of pain in the last sixty years in research, many manual therapists and fitness professionals are still being taught and adopting outdated ideas about pain. However, there is a small and emerging population of therapists and trainers who are gradually learning (and unlearning) about pain science and how to apply research with their patients or clients.
Even with this gradual movement, we see a lot of myths and misconceptions about pain being posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. This leads to some major debunking of these myths online that we often see over and over again like it's Groundhog's Day. If you're sick of seeing the same myths and explanations of why they are inaccurate, well, here's a list from five influential manual therapists on social media who are getting tired of seeing the S.O.S. almost everyday.