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Tui Na Massage: What is it? | East London Acupuncture & Massage Therapy
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East London Acupuncture & Massage Therapy

Tui Na Massage: What is it?

27 June 2013

‘Tui Na’ is a style of massage that is relatively new to the UK, despite having roots in ancient China. Archaeological findings have suggested that massage in Asia dates back to around 3000BC[1]. Originally it was known as ‘An Mo’ (literally ‘pressing and rubbing’), but after the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644) it was called ‘Tui Na’ (‘pushing and grasping’).

Unsurprisingly, given it’s long history, it’s techniques and theories have fed the roots of many of the Eastern massage styles, such as Shiatsu and Thai Massage, as well as Western styles, such as osteopathy and myofascial release. It has therefore been described as ‘the grandmother of all forms of massage and body work that exist today’[2].

The techniques used in Tui Na are wide ranging and varied. Some can be soft and gentle, such as ‘Mo Fa’ (‘rubbing’), while others can be strong and deep (akin to techniques used in deep tissue and sports massage), such as ‘Ya Fa’ (‘suppressing’). As a result it is a very flexible style, that can be great for many differing body types, and to treat a wide range of problems, from superficial bruising to deep muscular tension and pain.

Tui Na treatments are based on the same theories as acupuncture (Chinese Medical Theory). Massage is therefore usually performed along channels, in addition to on and around the problem area. These channels can be seen as areas of muscles that have a close relationship. For example, when moving forward certain sets of muscles will become more active as a group, e.g. gluteus maximus in the buttocks, the group of muscles commonly known as the hamstrings (semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris), and the calf mucles (soleus (inner calf) and gastrocnemius). Problems in one area will force other muscles groups to compensate, and as a result problems can pass ‘along a channel’. Treating these larger areas as well as the local problem can also improve blood flow and thus speed the healing process.

Because of its wide range of techniques, and its strong theoretical base, Tui Na is a very effective treatment for a wide range of problems, including sports injuries, repetitive strain injuries, joint problems, and other muscular-skeletal issues. It can be great for other, more internal conditions too, especially when combined with acupuncture.

There are some differences between a tui na massage and a typical Western style massage (e.g. Swedish massage). Oils are generally not used during a tui na massage as they make it harder to maintain control, especially when working with deep muscles and when trying to break adhesions. As a result, the techniques are often performed through clothes or a massage cloth (usually cotton or silk) – this prevents irritation of the skin, while allowing the practitioner to properly perform the techniques. During a session the person receiving the treatment may also be asked to change position several times, to allow the full range of techniques to be carried out.

Additionally, because it tends to be more specific and intense than other types of bodywork, tui na may not necessarily be used to sedate or relax a patient. The type of massage delivered by a tui na practitioner can be quite vigorous; in fact, some people may feel sore after their first session. Some people may also experience feelings of sleepiness or euphoria.


  1. ^ Sun, W. & Arne Kapner, A. (2011). Tuina Therapy: Treatment of Adults and Children. New York: Thieme.
  2. ^ Prichard, S. (2010). Tui na: a manual of Chinese massage therapy. Oxford: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

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