Tuina massage is an ancient form of Chinese massage that aims to balance a person’s energy. Practitioners use a variety of techniques, including kneading, pressing, rolling, and stretching.
The Huang Di Nei Jing, a famous ancient Chinese medical text dating from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD, is the first known document to define tuina massage. It contains material describing the use of massage techniques to treat certain illnesses. However, archaeologists have found evidence of tuina massage dating back to around 2700 BCE.
The practice includes an array of massage and manipulation techniques. During the session, the practitioner can use their hands and arms to massage, knead, press and stretch the body.
Here’s everything about tuina massage, including its benefits, side effects, and more.
What is tuina massage?
Originating in China, tuina, which is pronounced “tween-uh”, is the oldest known form of massage. In traditional Chinese medicine, the circulation of qi energy, or life force, is fundamental.
Tuina practitioners use massage and manipulation techniques to achieve a therapeutic effect. Massage aims to balance the flow of qi in a person, which, according to its proponents, promotes the body’s natural self-healing.
Tuina practitioners use a combination of hand and arm techniques to massage and realign the muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons of the recipient. These techniques may include kneading, pressing, rolling, shaking and stretching the trusted source. As with acupuncture, the practitioner stimulates pressure points in the recipient’s body. It aims to influence the flow of qi in the meridians, which are energy pathways in the body. Tuina massage may also use herbal poultices, compresses and ointments. The practitioner can place them on the outside of the body to enhance the therapeutic effects.
Some practitioners may place more emphasis on specific aspects of the technique. For instance :
Rolling: Focuses on soft tissue techniques to treat joint injuries and muscle sprains.
The One Finger Push Method: This uses acupressure techniques to treat internal diseases.
Nei Gung: This method involves exercises that generate Nei Gong qi, energy work that begins within the body and works outward, and specific massage methods to revitalize depleted energy systems.
Bone Adjustment Methods: This method focuses on manipulative methods to realign the musculoskeletal system and can be helpful for people with joint injuries and nerve pain.
What are the uses of tuina massage?
Tuina falls into the category of complementary or alternative therapies.
People can use it to focus on a specific health issue, such as joint, muscle, or bone pain in the following areas:
neck and shoulders
arms and legs
This technique can help improve a whole range of health problems. This is in particular
musculoskeletal disorders, such as frozen shoulder syndrome, herniated disc syndrome
circulatory system disorders, such as high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat
respiratory system disorders, such as asthma and chronic bronchitis
digestive system disorders, such as gallbladder inflammation and stomach ulcers
disorders of the reproductive system, such as menstrual irregularities and sexual dysfunctions.
Unlike other alternative therapies, there is scientific evidence to support these claims.
A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests that tuina massage may reduce pain and improve function in people with musculoskeletal conditions. However, the authors note that the evidence for pain reduction was stronger than that for improved function.
Chronic fatigue syndrome
According to a 2017 randomized controlled clinical trial published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, abdominal tuina massage was more effective than acupuncture in treating symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis assessed the safety and effectiveness of tuina in the treatment of functional constipation. The authors reviewed 16 articles covering 1424 cases. In their article, they conclude that tuina is beneficial for treating symptoms of functional constipation. They also note that the negative side effects are minimal.
Chronic neck pain
In a 2018 study, researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial to assess whether tuina is effective in reducing chronic neck pain. The results showed that administering six tuina sessions over 3 weeks was a safe, effective and relatively economical way to treat chronic neck pain.
Studies are also underway to explore the potential benefits of tuina massage in treating chronic low back pain, autism spectrum disorder, and cancer-related fatigue in people with breast cancer.
The benefits of tuina
While some people use tuina massage to manage pain or treat illness, others simply use this therapy to keep themselves healthy and feeling good. Some people who receive tuina say it relaxes them and energizes them. It can help reduce insomnia, headaches and stress.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that its primary benefit is providing relaxation and bringing an overall sense of balance. In some cases, it can also reduce pain, which can be helpful for people who want to minimize their painkiller intake.
Tuina and other types of massage
Tuina is similar to other types of oriental massage which aim to balance the flow of energy in the body. However, it differs from Western massage therapy in that practitioners can use it to treat a range of specific health issues, not just those related to musculoskeletal health.
The other types of massage are as follows
Thai massage: Like tuina massage, Thai massage aims to eliminate blockages and correct imbalances in the body’s energy flow.
Shiatsu massage: Practitioners use this type of massage to treat a range of chronic health conditions related to stress and pain.
Sports massage: It aims to help manage musculoskeletal health problems.
Swedish massage: Swedish massage aims to improve relaxation and circulation, but it is a much gentler form of massage.
Side effects and risks
Although tuina massage is generally safe and tolerable for most people, it can cause some physical discomfort during a session. It is likely that you will not experience the feeling of a gentle, relaxing massage. A 2017 case study in the European Spine Journal acknowledged the safety and usefulness of tuina for treating a wide range of health conditions. However, researchers found a lack of evidence regarding the use of tuina for ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease of the spine.
Originating in China, tuina is probably the oldest form of massage therapy in the world. Research suggests it is beneficial for people with musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal problems, and ongoing trials are investigating whether it is effective in treating other conditions. Tuina is generally safe for most people, but people with medical conditions should consult a doctor before trying it.
Fang, Y.-P., et al. (2021). Systematic review and meta analysis on the effectiveness and safety of tuina in treatment of functional constipation [Abstract].
Feng, X et al. (2022). Pediatric Tuina in children with autism spectrum disorder: A study protocol for a randomized controlled trial.
Huanan, L., et al. (2017). Chronic fatigue syndrome treated by the traditional Chinese procedure abdominal tuina: A randomized controlled clinical trial.
Kang, S.-H., et al. (2018). Effects of the tuina and Thai massage techniques on vascular arterial compliance in middle-aged Korean men.
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