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What is Tuina Massage?|How Does Tuina Massage Work & What Are Its Benefits?

Tuina massage is the latest fad that has got everyone talking in the world of massages. Originating in ancient China, it surprises many people to known that archaeological studies have actually found evidence of Tuina massages dating all the way back to 2700 BC. This makes Tuina massage the forerunner of all other types of massages that exist today – right from shiatsu to osteopathy. It is believed to be the oldest system of bodywork and is also one of the four primary branches of traditional Chinese medicine, along with Chinese herbal medicine, qi gong, and acupuncture. Tuina massages are based on the theory of qi imbalances. As per Chinese beliefs, qi is the body’s vital energy or life force and any imbalances or blockages in your qi can cause symptoms such as pain and many other diseases. Today we take a look at what exactly is a Tuina massage and what are the benefits of a Chinese Tuina massage.

What is Tuina Massage?

Tuina massage is one of the oldest system of bodywork originating in ancient China and is based on the theory of correcting the imbalances of qi in the body.(1) Tuina massage is one of the four primary branches of Chinese traditional medicine, the other three being qi gong, Chinese herbal medicines, and acupuncture.(2)

Qi is the body’s energy or vital force of life, and any imbalances in the flow of qi within the body, or any blockages can cause symptoms such as pain and other diseases. Tuina massage focuses on correcting the imbalances of qi. It stimulates the qi flow throughout the body to promote harmony and restore balance in the body, using the same principles of acupuncture. Tuina is similar to acupuncture as it targets the specific acupoints in the body, but instead of using needles, practitioners use their fingers to apply pressure for stimulating these acupoints.(3) Sometimes, tuina massage is also used in combination with acupuncture.

How Does Tuina Massage Works?

The principles of tuina massage are based on traditional Chinese medicine, focusing on the physical and emotional components of a person’s overall well-being. It also focuses on factors such as diet, relationships, and even the climate. The foundation of tuina massage is that you can achieve true health only when you have found and achieved balance and harmony inside yourself as well as your environment. The goal of tuina massage, therefore, is to create harmony in your body by balancing the yin and yang of the body. It does this by getting rid of the blockages and disturbances that tend to manifest as emotional issues, disease, and other illnesses.

It is very similar to acupuncture and uses the same acupoints and energy meridians to balance the blood flow and qi in your body. This ultimately leads to better health because when your qi is flowing incorrectly, it causes blockages leading to poor blood circulation in the impacted part of your body.

The primary therapeutic goal of a tuina massage is to get rid of the energetic blocks in the body that are causing stagnation in your qi flow.

During a tuina massage, practitioners make use of pressure and oscillating techniques. These techniques differ in speed and force, and the massage can either be done as a gentle, energetic treatment, or it can also be done as a stronger, deep-tissue massage.

Some tuina techniques are more focused on yin, which a passive, more gentle, and meditative, while the other approach focuses on yang, which is dynamic, more active, and also more physical. The yang approach creates a more intense sensation as it stimulates deep blockages in the body and also works on the knots.

The practitioner will massage the tendons and muscles and makes use of manipulation methods to realign the body’s qi flow. Passive joint movements are also used during the massage to restore the functioning of the joints and muscles.

Depending on your individual needs and on your practitioner, your practitioner will use different techniques during the session. To boost the effects of the tuina treatment, compresses or herbal poultices, salves, and lotions are also used.

Tuina massage also uses massaging methods such as myofascial release, acupressure, as well as reflexology. Sometimes, certain techniques that are common to chiropractic and osteopathy, such as joint mobilizations and stretching, are also used to provide relief in cases of chronic joint or muscle pain.

There are eight basic methods that are used during a tuina massage.(4) These include:

  • Kneading (mo)
  • Pushing (tui)
  • Palpating (mo)
  • Rejoining (jie)
  • Pressing (an)
  • Opposing (duan)
  • Lifting (ti)
  • Holding (na)

Some other techniques are:(5)

Nei gung: A full body manipulation technique

Rolling: This technique is used for injuries such as strains and sprains

One Finger Technique: This technique uses only one finger stimulation of the acupressure points on the body

Benefits of Tuina Massage

There is a lot of ongoing research on the benefits of tuina massage, and there is a lot of evidence that suggests the effectiveness of tuina massage in treating many types of health conditions. Some of the benefits and what the science says about these benefits are discussed below.

Increases Blood Circulation

One of the major purposes of getting a tuina massage done is to boost your blood circulation. Tuina massage does this by stimulating the energy flow of the body. A small study done by the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2015 found that yi zhi chan tuina manipulation when done at the BL 56 acupressure point is highly effective in improving blood circulation. In this research study, manipulation was done using a medium level of force for around 10 minutes. This was found to be more effective in boosting blood circulation as compared to other treatments that make use of heavy or light force for shorter periods of time.

Further studies on a larger scale need to be done to expand on the findings of this study.

Provides Relief in Neck Pain

Many people opt for getting a tuina massage because it works wonders in reducing neck pain as well as the accompanying tightness, irritation, and tension associated with neck pain. A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2018 found evidence that tuina massage is one of the most cost-effective options for reducing pain in people who suffer from chronic neck pain. People receiving just six tuina treatments in a time span of three weeks found that the intensity of their chronic neck pain was reduced significantly as compared to people who received no treatment.

Nevertheless, further research that focuses on other treatments versus tuina massage in treating neck pain is needed.(6)

Reduces Lower Back Pain

Another benefit of tuina massage is that it can provide significant relief in lower back pain, especially when the massage is combined with certain core exercises. A 2016 study carried out by the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Jinan University in China found that tuina massage was a more effective method of helping people with lower back pain when it is paired with specific core stability exercises.

The study also found, though, that people who only did tuina massage alone, did not experience much relief in pain and also had a higher rate of back pain during the follow-up appointments as compared to those who combined core exercises with the tuina massage.

Helps Treat Depression

Tuina massage can help people who have depression. This is because tuina massage focuses on entire body healing, and the cause of depression can often be found to be both emotional and as well as physical. In 2015, a review of several studies was published in the Journal of Oriental Neuropsychiatry that concluded that tuina massage has a healing or therapeutic effect on depression. The review also found that tuina massage was significantly more effective at reducing feelings of depression as compared to other conventional treatments.

In order to expand on and confirm these findings, more high-quality studies are needed.

Good for Lactation

Tuina massage can be ideal in encouraging postpartum lactation. The College of Acupuncture and Massage in China in 2012 found that tuina massage on the breasts can significantly boost the quantity of lactation as compared to women who are only taking conventional treatment for improving lactation. While not much of a difference was found between the groups in the study in terms of delaying the reduction of prolactin levels in the body, the researching team still believe that tuina massage can have a huge positive effect in this field. Tuina can help new breastfeeding mothers produce higher amounts of milk more quickly.(7)


Tuina massage is considered to be a safe treatment that is usually well-tolerated by everyone. However, it is important to know that tuina is not a gentle and relaxing massage. You might feel some discomfort after or during your session and sometimes slight bruising may also occur. Tuina massage is not recommended for people who are prone to fractures or who have had fractures, who have an open wound or being inflammation. If you have any type of chronic back problems, such as ankylosing spondylitis, you should steer clear from getting a tuina massage.

A healing technique, tuina massage does offer many types of health benefits, and if you are interested in trying out a tuina massage, then you should only get it done from a certified practitioner. The massage works especially well when it is combined with other natural treatments and by following a healthy lifestyle as well. In order to increase the benefits of each massage, your practitioner might also encourage you to do exercises, stretches, or self-massage.


  1. Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego. (2019). Tuina – Chinese Medical Massage — Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego. [online] Available at: http://www.taoistsanctuary.org/tuina [Accessed 5 Jun. 2019].
  2. Ukrtcm.org. (2019). History of Tui na Chinese Massage | RTCM. [online] Available at: http://www.ukrtcm.org/about-tui-na/history [Accessed 5 Jun. 2019].
  3. Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. (2019). Tui na | Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. [online] Available at: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/therapeutic-massage-tui-na [Accessed 5 Jun. 2019].
  4. Supervisor, D. (2019). Tui Na Massage. [online] Acupuncture and Massage College. Available at: https://www.amcollege.edu/blog/tui-na-massage [Accessed 5 Jun. 2019].
  5. Pacific College. (2019). Tui Na Massage – Pacific College. [online] Available at: https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2014/10/26/tui-na-massage [Accessed 5 Jun. 2019].
  6. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. (2019). Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Tuina for Chronic Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing Tuina with a No-Intervention Waiting List | The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. [online] Available at: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2017.0209 [Accessed 5 Jun. 2019].
  7. Zheng JJ, e. (2019). [Effect of Tuina at breast on postpartum lactation]. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22493925 [Accessed 5 Jun. 2019].
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 25, 2019

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