In this post, Lubica Stubnova shares her discovery of Tui Na Massage and offers an introduction to this healing Chinese therapy.

My Discovery of Tui Na Massage

I first discovered Tui Na on my quest for a therapy that would help relieve the stubborn pain in the muscles of my back. When I was a child, I was very active, taking part in all sorts of sports activities. At the age of 5, I started with ballet then went on to gymnastics, followed by athletics. Later, I became an aerobic workout instructor while studying for my undergraduate degree. After that, I began working in a pharmacy, where I would spend most of my days on my feet. I had less time to exercise and it was at this point that I started to suffer with regular back pain, particularly in my lower back and between the shoulder blades (scapulas). I tried so many therapies to alleviate the pain but nothing worked. Physiotherapy and painkillers were the only options offered to me through Western medicine.

When I eventually decided that I wanted to study Chinese Medicine, I attended a preparatory course on Tui Na/Cupping Therapy as an introduction. I’d never even heard of this therapy before but it was a truly life-changing discovery.

Throughout the course, students would learn the massage techniques by practising on one another and because of this, I was able to have Tui Na treatments every day. I couldn’t believe the extraordinary effect it had on me. Once I had started to study for my degree in Chinese Medicine with a focus on Acupuncture, I continued to learn the Tui Na techniques and principles of this therapy that, from that moment, opened up a wonderful new chapter in my life.

But what is Tui Na massage?

Tui Na (pronounced: ‘twee-nah’) has the literal meaning of ‘push & grasp’. It’s a form of massage therapy and is one of the ancient healing arts of Traditional Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture and herbal medicine.

In China, Tui Na has been practiced for more than 2300 years. The first known writings on this subject can be found in the The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. Although Tui Na has been practiced in China for thousands of years and is available in hospitals and clinics throughout the country, in the West, it is only just becoming more widely known and used.

In China, Tui Na is used to treat conditions that in the West would require an osteopath, chiropractor, physiotherapist, or sports therapist. And yet, it can be more effective than any of these practices as it works not only on the muscles and joints but also on a deeper level, balancing the flow of vital energy throughout the body, mind and spirit.

Tui Na and Qi

As we’ve talked about before, in Chinese medicine, Qi (‘chee’) is an activating force for all life. In the body, Qi flows in channels called meridians and supplies this vital energy to all the organs, body tissues and mind.

The practice of Tui Na involves applying pressure to the meridians and specific energy points (known as ‘acupoints’) on these, affecting the flow of Qi so that it moves freely and evenly throughout the body. The free-flow and rebalancing of Qi in the body can have a profound effect on all aspects of well-being – from the emotional to the intellectual and spiritual, as well as the physical.

In Chinese medicine there is a well-known saying, “bu tong ze tong”, which means: “when there is no movement there is a pain.” Because pain is so often the result of stagnation in the pathways or meridians of the body, stimulation through the application of pressure helps to release this pain.

What are the factors that affect Qi-flow?

When there’s a problem, Western medicine tends to look for the agent that causes an ailment (such as viruses and bacteria) and the focus becomes treating the symptoms, especially if the cause of the disease is unclear. These practices are rooted in the science of anatomy and physiology, which study the body as separate from the mind.

But in Chinese medical theory, body, mind and spirit are seen as undivided and interdependent – and so, a physical ailment is viewed as a reflection of disharmony in the whole being. To cure the ailment, Chinese Medicine understands that a practitioner must cure the root of the cause of this disharmony in order to alleviate the pain.

According to Chinese medicine, disharmony can be caused by external and/or internal factors. The external causes of disharmony are due to climatic factors: cold, wind, dampness, summer-heat, dryness. In particular, cold, windy and rainy weather can have a detrimental effect on the flow of Qi by penetrating meridians, causing obstructions to the Qi-flow and making muscles and sinews stiff, painful and with a feeling of heaviness. It’s also worth mentioning that artificial cold from the use of air-conditioning can cause these same symptoms.

The internal causes of disharmony in Chinese Medicine revolve around strong emotions. Joy, fear, anger, sadness, or anxiety can all affect the harmonious flow of Qi in the body. Whilst, of course, it’s healthy to experience emotion, in the extreme it can over-stimulate the flow of Qi, often leading to stiffness in the muscles and sinews.

What to Expect During Your Tui Na Treatment

Tui Na Massage is a very safe therapy. When you go for your first appointment, a trained practitioner will ask you questions about your health and lifestyle and will use this to assess where Qi is likely to be imbalanced. This will help to indicate the meridians (and the specific points on those channels) that need to be treated to restore balance.

The massage is given through clothing and no oils are used. We recommend that you wear loose, comfortable clothing to allow for easy movement. During the massage, you will either be sat upright in a chair or lying down on a treatment couch, depending on which part of the body is being treated.

The active communication between the practitioner and receiver is a fundamental part of Tui Na treatments. Feedback from the patient on what feels good or painful will help guide the practitioner to the points where treatment is most needed and will inform them on how much pressure to apply. Tui Na techniques allow the exchange of Qi between the giver and receiver, making it a hugely rewarding experience for both parties.

At first, you may find some of the Tui Na techniques uncomfortable but after a vigorous kneading and pushing, the tissues and muscles will feel both pleasantly relaxed and invigorated.

Tui Na Techniques

There are a range of techniques used in Tui Na massage and all these stimulate the flow of Qi in different ways. The ‘soft tissue’ techniques, such as rubbing, squeezing, kneading, rolling and pressing, work on the muscles and underlying tissues, ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels. These techniques have specific effects on underlying tissues such as muscle relaxation, stimulation of blood flow, or lymph drainage. Percussion and hand cupping are the techniques used as a finale on flat, well-muscled areas of back, thighs or buttocks. Joint manipulation techniques are used safely to treat tired and aching joints. These include shaking, extension and flexion, rotation, pushing and pulling, and stretching movements.

When is Tui Na Not Suitable?

Although Tui Na is a very safe therapy and can boost vitality and wellbeing, there are some instances where it is not suitable.

We do not recommend this treatment:

  • for those with serious heart disease or cancer (especially of the skin or lymphatic system)
  • for individuals with osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • on artificial joints
  • where skin is inflamed or broken skin, or on those suffering with a skin condition such as eczema, psoriasis or shingles

For women who are pregnant, caution is also advised.

What Can Tui Na Help With?

Tui Na provides complete stimulation of the body’s entire musculoskeletal system as well as all the internal organs. And so, it is particularly effective in treating the pain of the muscles and joints resulting from a sports injury, wear and tear, chronic stress, or other causes.  It’s also excellent for treating stress-related disorders, such as headaches.

Tui Na Massage and Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is a very common complaint which many Western doctors will diagnose as sciatica, ‘wear and tear’, or as the result of a slipped disc. It is often treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, bed rest and eventually surgery, as a last resort.

The diagnosis of a practitioner in Chinese Medicine on the other hand, would address the underlying energy imbalance causing the back pain. The Tui Na treatment would most likely involve a massage on the Bladder and Gallbladder meridians of the back, and on specific points on these meridians, together with joint manipulation of the lower back and hips. Bed rest would not be recommended but gentle exercise and stretching instead.

The Promise of Tui Na

As Qi-flow and balance is restored in the body, you will likely feel the positive impact of this therapy on both your mental and emotional state. In most cases, Tui Na massage leaves the recipient feeling enlivened, sparkling, happy and full of energy.

If you would like to find out more about the benefits of Tui Na massage or would like to go ahead and schedule your first treatment, please get in touch here.

Written by Lubica Stubnova

Read other blogs by Lubica:

An Introduction to Cupping Therapy

Exploring Traditional Acupuncture