Tuina or tui-na (pronounced twee-nah) massage originated in ancient China and is believed to be the oldest system of bodywork. It’s one of the four main branches of traditional Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture, qi gong, and Chinese herbal medicine.
It’s based on the theory that imbalances of qi, which is the body’s vital life force or energy, can cause blockages or imbalances that lead to symptoms such as pain and illness.
Tuina massage stimulates the flow of qi to promote balance and harmony within the body using many of the same principles of acupuncture.
It’s similar to acupuncture in the way it targets specific acupoints, but practitioners use fingers instead of needles to apply pressure to stimulate these points. Tuina massage is often used in combination with acupuncture.
The philosophy and principles of tuina massage are based on traditional Chinese medicine, which focuses on emotional and physical components of a person’s well-being, as well as aspects such as climate, relationships, and diet.
The underlying philosophy of tuina massage is that true health is achieved when one has found harmony and balance inside the self and their environment.
The goal of tuina massage is to create harmony in the yin and yang of the body by getting rid of blockages and disturbances that manifest as illness, disease, and emotional issues.
Similar to acupuncture, tuina massage uses the same energetic meridians and acupoints to balance the qi and blood in your body, leading to better health. Qi that’s flowing incorrectly can cause blockages, such as poor blood circulation in the affected area.
The main therapeutic goal of tuina massage is to remove the energetic blocks that are causing qi stagnation.
During a session, practitioners use oscillating and pressure techniques that differ in force and speed. Tuina massage can be done as a stronger deep-tissue massage or a more gentle, energetic treatment.
Some techniques are more yin, which is more gentle, passive, and meditative. The yang approach is more active, dynamic, and physical, creating more intense sensations by stimulating deep blockages and knots.
The practitioner massages the muscles and tendons and uses manipulation techniques to realign the body. Passive joint movements are used to restore function to muscles and joints.
Depending on your practitioner as well as your specific needs, various techniques will be used in a session. To enhance the effects of the treatment, herbal poultices or compresses, lotions, and salves are used.
Tuina massage uses massage techniques such as acupressure, myofascial release, and reflexology. Sometimes, techniques that are common to osteopathy and chiropractic, such as stretching and joint mobilizations, are also used.
There are eight basic techniques used in tuina massage:
- palpating (mo)
- rejoining (jie)
- opposing (duan)
- lifting (ti)
- pressing (an)
- kneading (mo)
- pushing (tui)
- holding (na)
Other techniques include:
- Rolling. This is used for injuries such as sprains and strains.
- One-finger technique. This is one-finger stimulation of acupressure points.
- Nei gung. This is a full-body manipulation technique.
Watch this video for a demonstration of some of the tuina massage techniques:
Tuina massage can be used to treat specific health concerns or areas in the body. Since tuina massage is considered to be an alternative treatment, it’s essential that you talk to your doctor before using it to treat any medical condition.
Tuina massage can be used to treat pain and illness, or to maintain good health. The technique is effective in reducing stress, encouraging relaxation, and deepening sleep. It’s often used for conditions and injuries related to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.
Here are some conditions tuina massage can treat:
- neck and back pain
- musculoskeletal disorders
- premenstrual syndrome
- fatigue and insomnia
- carpal tunnel
- digestive conditions
- respiratory conditions
While some of the research is preliminary and ongoing, there’s plenty of evidence to back the effectiveness of tuina massage in treating health conditions. Let’s see what some of the studies say about the benefits.
1. Boosts blood circulation
One of the main intentions of tuina massage is to boost blood circulation by stimulating the body’s energy flow.
A small 2015 study indicates that yi zhi chan tuina manipulation on BL 56 acupoint is effective in improving circulation. In this study, manipulation using medium force for 10 minutes was found to be more effective than treatments using light or heavy force for shorter amounts of time.
Larger studies are needed to expand on these findings.
2. Reduces neck pain
Tuina massage relieves neck pain and the accompanying tension, tightness, and irritation.
A 2018 study concluded that tuina massage is a cost-effective option for reducing pain in people with chronic neck pain. People who received six tuina treatments within three weeks reduced the intensity of their neck pain more than people who had no treatment.
Further research that compares tuina to other treatments is necessary, though.
3. Relieves low back pain
Tuina massage can relieve lower back pain, especially when treatment is paired with core exercises.
Researchers in a 2016 study found that tuina massage was more effective when combined with core stability exercises in people with low back pain.
People who did tuina massage alone had higher rates of back pain at follow-up compared to people who incorporated core exercises to their treatment.
4. Treats depression
Focusing on whole-body healing is essential for people with depression, since the causes can be both physical and emotional.
A 2015 review of studies concluded that tuina massage has a therapeutic effect on depression. It was shown to be significantly more effective in reducing depression than conventional treatments.
More high-quality studies are needed to confirm and expand on these findings.
5. Promotes healthy lactation
Tuina massage is used to encourage postpartum lactation.
The results of a
Though no significant difference was found between the groups in terms of delaying the decrease of prolactin levels, researchers believe tuina massage could have a positive effect in this area. It could help new mothers produce greater quantities of milk more quickly.
6. Treats osteoarthritis
The therapeutic benefits of tuina massage extend to alleviating symptoms of osteoarthritis.
According to a small
Patients saw improvement in pain, stiffness, and function.
7. Eases carpal tunnel syndrome
According to this
People with carpal tunnel syndrome who received warm-needling acupuncture in addition to tuina massage showed significantly more improvements than people who were treated using hormone block therapy and medication.
8. Treats musculoskeletal disorders
Tuina massage is often used to improve function and reduce pain affecting the joints, bones, and muscles.
A 2017 review and meta-analysis points to the effectiveness of tuina massage in treating musculoskeletal disorders. The technique was shown to be effective in relieving pain, especially compared to traction, medication, and physical therapies.
Evidence to support better function wasn’t as strong as pain reduction. Further research is needed to expand on these findings.
9. Benefits foot issues from diabetes
Tuina massage can be beneficial for people with diabetes who have foot issues.
A 2018 study found that tuina massage combined with a Chinese medicine foot bath was therapeutically beneficial for people with early-stage diabetic foot.
People who received tuina massage and a foot bath in addition to conventional medicine showed significant improvements compared to people who received only conventional medicine.
10. Improves quality of life in cancer patients
Tuina massage is a viable option for people with cancer who want to manage symptoms related to the disease and its conventional treatment.
A 2016 meta-analysis assessed the effect of tuina massage on improving symptoms and quality of life for people with cancer. The meta-analysis also looked at the effects of:
- tai chi
- qi gong
- traditional Chinese medicine five-element music therapy
When combined with acupuncture, tuina massage was effective in improving quality of life in people with terminal cancer. Tuina massage was also shown to be effective in relieving stomach discomfort.
Though tuina massage shows promise as a therapy to treat people with cancer, more in-depth research is needed, as many of the studies had limitations.
Learn about some of the self-massage techniques for side effects of cancer treatments here.
Tuina massage is a safe treatment and is generally well-tolerated. However, remember that it’s not a gentle or relaxing massage, and you may feel some discomfort during or after a session. Slight bruising is possible.
It’s not recommended for people who have fractures or are prone to fractures, vein inflammation, or any type of open wound. It’s also not recommended for people with previous chronic back issues, such as ankylosing spondylitis.
Talk to your doctor before adding tuina massage to your treatment plan if you have any health concerns. Your doctor may recommend that you use tuina massage as a complement to conventional treatment.
Additionally, they may recommend another alternative treatment to be used alongside tuina massage. If you experience any adverse effects or changes to your condition after a tuina treatment, talk to your doctor.
Tuina massage is a healing technique that offers an array of benefits. If you’re interested in trying it, contact a certified practitioner through the American Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia.
As with many healing modalities, tuina massage works well when combined with other natural treatments and a healthy lifestyle. Your practitioner may encourage you to do self-massage, stretches, and exercises on your own to increase the benefits of each treatment.