Tuina: Ancient Chinese Healing Techniques

This ancient Chinese healing technique was not always known as Tuina, but has always been relied upon to relieve injuries.


Tuina practitioners brush, knead, roll, press and rub an injured person’s body, using their palms, fingertips and knuckles to remove blockages along the meridians of the patient’s body to stimulate qi and blood to promote healing. As such, this technique can easily be mistaken for an ordinary massage. However, practitioners must have undergone training in Taoist and martial arts philosophies. Tuina is an important component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

When asked to describe the difference between Tuina and massage, Ge Ming from Eu Yan Sang Premier TCM Centre at Camden Medical Centre explains, “A massage is not founded on TCM principles, however positive its effects may be. Tuina can be traced to ancient China: hurt by natural disasters and animal attacks, people developed the practice of rubbing and pressing on injuries to soothe the pain.”

The importance of diagnosis

Tuina targets problem areas directly to soothe a patient’s overarching ailments. However, this does not mean that Tuina is a catch-all solution to all bone- or tendon-related problems. A detailed diagnosis by the practitioner is of utmost importance to ascertain the root cause of the problem. In order not to aggravate existing conditions, it’s imperative to locate a professional clinic, where the Tuina practitioner can ascertain a number of important factors: the events preceding injury, its nature, affected areas, and the length of time symptoms have persisted. He must also note the condition of the patient’s limb and joint function, and if there is swelling before he can assess if Tuina therapy is the recommended route to recovery.

Where a strain or chronic joint injury is concerned, the patient must be aware of the root cause of pain. One must also note the inherent relationship between joint, muscle, ligament, tendon, bursa, fascia, blood vessels and nerves. One can better target problem areas with the knowledge and thus achieve maximum effect. Tuina, unlike many other aspects of TCM, directly works on the problem area. It is especially efficacious in the treatment of tendon- and bone-related injuries or pains; in fact, one can hardly avoid Tuina as a treatment option when it comes to such problems. 

Limitations of Tuina

Tuina, like all forms of therapy, has clear specifications, guidelines and limitations. “Certain conditions are unsuitable for Tuina,” warns Ge Ming. Such conditions include bone fractures, ligament tears, fevers, infections, malignant tumours, acute spine injuries and spinal cord compression. However, Tuina is compatible with other forms of therapy—depending on the kind of ailment, the TCM practitioner will be able to recommend a tailored treatment process. Tuina is not Kung fu Tuina, contrary to common misconception, is not a form of martial arts at all. Tuina utilises the finger, palm, wrist and arm for treatment. Efficacy of treatment is not dependent on the amount of strength used; instead, excellent control of strength and pressure based on TCM principles is key.

Tuina for paediatrics

A child’s meridian points differ from a fully formed adult. Acupuncture points in an adult correlate not to similar points, but to a line or an area in a child. In practice, Tuina for children typically addresses problems of indigestion, constipation, cough, asthma, enuresis, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and dysplasia, among other health problems.

Tuina for EVERYONE?

This healing technique is for everyone—even children, as explained above. However, Ge Ming advises pregnant women and cancer patients to refrain from it. He also does not subscribe to the ‘No Pain, No Gain’ school of thought: “Some people think that the more pain they experience during the treatment, the better the results. That is not true.” As for side effects, he advises, “If the cause and extent of the injury is not determined before treatment, then there may be side effects. Otherwise, it’s basically safe.”

In Focus

Tuina is good for: certain types of fractures, dislocations and internal injuries general physical and mental wellbeing strengthening of immune system

Tuina motions: brush, knead, roll, press, rub

Tuina applicators: thumb, palm, fingertips, knuckles.



Photo courtesy of Thinkstock. This article first appeared in NATURA magazine issue No.4.