Tuina (‘twee-nah’) massage is a type of Chinese massage therapy and part of the Chinese medicinal tradition.
The style of massage is described in the name itself: ‘Tui’ means push while ‘Na’ is translated as grasp. Tuina is also referred to as a “pinch and pull” style massage.
Unlike other massage therapies, like Swedish, hot stone, or aromatherapy, Tuina is not a massage you’d request at the spa. While other massages serve as relaxation therapies, tuina is a treatment used to address specific ailments including an imbalance of Qi. Its use is not dissimilar to that of acupuncture, where the therapist attempts to manipulate your Qi by using specific channels with the goal of finding balance between the yin and yang forces in your body.
Tuina isn’t as well-known in the West as its acupuncture counterpart. But its status is growing, and it is used both on its own and when acupuncture is inappropriate, such as in people with a fear of needles or in children. Tunia treatments for children are commonly called “Chinese pediatric massage therapy.”
Tuina in Medicine
Practitioners prescribe tuina massage alongside herbal therapies and acupuncture, but it has developed into a complete healing therapy on its own.
In fact, doctors use tuina in Chinese hospitals, including large research hospitals, in conjunction with Western medicine as a complementary therapy for treating a wide range of conditions.
What Does Tuina Treat
Tuina massage is suitable for treating a variety of conditions including:
- Achy muscles
- Chronic bronchitis
- Ear infections and diseases
- Hot flashes
- Irregular menstruation
- Sports injuries
Many people also use tuina massage for general wellbeing.
The Benefits of Tuina
Tuina offers many of the benefits of massage therapy, but it also offers distinct benefits worth discovering.
First, tuina is part of a complete system of medicine, which means it treats physical ailments while also re-establishing balance in your body and protecting you from future maladies. You’ll find even greater benefits when you use it with the other two components: acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.
Second, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of acupuncture without the needles or pain. Tuina attacks the 12 points used during acupuncture and uses manual bodywork to release and connect with the energy. If you like, you can even use it with acupuncture to effectively address your energy.
Tuina is also commonly used to treat all kinds of disorders, and it is simple to integrate with both traditional and modern medicine. You can also use it with other types of massage including myofascial release, shiatsu, and deep tissue massage.
The Principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine
If you want to understand the benefits of tuina massage, you need to look towards the principles underlying Chinese medical massage.
There are three important principles to cover:
- Eight Principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Influential Points
Let’s start with the foundation of all these principles: Qi.
Qi, Chinese Medicine, and Tuina Massage
Chinese medicine is a system: it contains everything that both creates it and keeps it functioning. In a system, everything depends on everything else – it’s interconnected. Thus, harmony is the most important state.
Without harmony, one out-of-place element disturbs the others and sends the whole system into chaos.
In Chinese medicine, one of the two vital concepts is Qi (chee). Qi is fundamental and unique to this traditional medicine system. In essence, it is the energy that surrounds us – the vital energy that both gives us life and sustains our lives. Qi courses around our body along meridian lines but keeping the right amount of Qi and manifesting it is difficult.
Because our lives take different courses, we must stop and adjust our Qi to make sure it is inline. If it isn’t, we’ll feel rundown, sick, and out-of-place.
Qi is critical because it is universal and it is involved in all energies. You and your body have Qi; rocks have Qi; your iPhone has Qi.
Tuina massage is one way to measure and adjust your Qi when you have too much or too little or it has become unbalanced. But, you can’t adjust your Qi on an ad-hoc basis. Adjustments need to be done according to a set of principles known as the eight principles of Chinese medicine.
Eight Principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are eight principles (in four pairs) that inform the diagnosis of any ailment:
- Li-biao (external/internal)
- Han-re (hot/cold)
- Xu-shi (empty/full)
- Ying and yang (ying-yang)
Li-biao refers to where the disease is located – is it in your skin or muscles (external) or located within your internal organs or bones (internal)? Determining this factor helps with diagnosis and determining whether your illness is taking a turn for the worse.
Han-re, or hot and cold, refers to clinical symptoms that are found in common diseases. Symptoms are categorized as being full hot, empty hot, full cold, and empty cold. For example, full heat is found when your body is overrun by Yang energies. Full heat is characterized by thirst, fever, rapid pulse, red eyes, and a red tongue.
Xu-shi, or empty or full refers to whether there’s a pathogen involved in the diagnosis and the role of your body’s energy. If you’re Full, then you’ve encountered a pathogen and your Qi is still able to fight; your symptoms are caused by the Qi exerting itself to fight the pathogen. Empty means you haven’t encountered a pathogen AND your Qi is depleted.
Yin and yang is the most recognizable of the eight principles. These are general categories for each of the above patterns above.
Yin categories are:
Yang categories include:
TCM tuina massage takes these eight principles and attempts to engage the body’s defensive chi and ensure that the eight principles above reach a balance, so you can achieve wellness.
It does so by attacking the eight gateways, of Influential Points, in the body.
The Influential Points
The Influential Points are used by both tuina (through acupressure) and acupuncture. The term represents the eight points of your body where Qi is infused in your body’s surface. Because these points are the closest you can get to Qi, it makes them the perfect place to manipulate the Chi in whatever way is required.
Acupuncturists use these points to create a profound effect on the function of the body. Acupressure, as used in tuina massage, performs a similar function.
Your First Tuina Massage Session
The goal of tuina massage is to realign your soft tissue with your bone while energizing your body and treating whatever malady your body is coping with.
Before your session, you’ll be asked to fill out a form to discuss any illnesses or general feelings of wellness you experience. Your therapist may also ask you to stick out your tongue to make a diagnosis according to TCM principles. It’s also common for a therapist to take your pulse.
Once the practitioner makes a diagnosis, your treatment will begin. Like many other types of Eastern massage, there’s no need to remove your clothes. Instead, you’ll lie on a massage table while the masseuse uses a variety of techniques.
In many cases, the therapist will look towards your acupressure points and go through the process of manipulating the relevant points identified during diagnosis. Acupressure is a treatment that involves using the fingers rather than needs to manipulate your pressure points. In tuina, it is performed using the thumbs, fingers, palms, and elbows.
Stretching techniques are also used to improve blood flow and open up the eight gateways of the body. The stretching component may make this therapy more vigorous than other types of massage therapy.
Together, these treatments improve your energy flow (by increasing or decreasing it) and target the imbalance diagnosed before the session began.
Your session doesn’t end when your time in the studio is up. It’s common for practitioners to encourage you to use a set of exercises and self-massage at home. These additional treatments improve the work done by the practitioner and encourage balanced Qi by serving as a format to engage in self-care.
Using Tuina with Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine
If your diagnosis calls for it and you are interested in pursuing TCM cures for your illness, you might be directed towards herbal medicines. In the United States, these medicines are often marketed as dietary supplements, and they can be found in health stores or in TCM stores.
The FDA doesn’t regulate herbal medicines when sold as supplements, but they are recognized as being generally safe. Still, talk to your doctor if you’re using supplements in conjunction with Western medicine to prevent any unintentional interactions.
Acupuncture is regulated by the FDA because it uses needles; the law mandates that the needles be sterile and that the practice is only used by those with a valid qualification. For the most part, the only serious adverse effects reported result from the improper use of acupuncture and the use of nonsterile needles.
Chinese Medicine for Holistic Health
Traditional Chinese Medicine targets your whole health by focusing on aligning our Qi – the very energy that creates and sustains us. These philosophies make for practical medicine, and tuina is used across China in conjunction with Western medicine.
Do you use Traditional Chinese Medicine in your life? Have you tried tuina massage? Share your stories in the comments below.