Chinese style massage (推拿)

Tuina or tui-na (pronounced twee-nah) massage originated in ancient China and is believed to be the oldest system of bodywork. It’s one of the four main branches of traditional Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture, qi gong, and Chinese herbal medicine.

It’s based on the theory that imbalances of qi, which is the body’s vital life force or energy, can cause blockages or imbalances that lead to symptoms such as pain and illness.

Tuina massage stimulates the flow of qi to promote balance and harmony within the body using many of the same principles of acupuncture.

It’s similar to acupuncture in the way it targets specific acupoints, but practitioners use fingers instead of needles to apply pressure to stimulate these points.

How it works

The underlying philosophy of tuina massage is that true health is achieved when one has found harmony and balance inside the self and their environment.

The goal of tuina massage is to create harmony in the yin and yang of the body by getting rid of blockages and disturbances that manifest as illness, disease, and emotional issues.

Similar to acupuncture, tuina massage uses the same energetic meridians and acupoints to balance the qi and blood in your body, leading to better health. Qi that’s flowing incorrectly can cause blockages, such as poor blood circulation in the affected area.

The main therapeutic goal of tuina massage is to remove the energetic blocks that are causing qi stagnation.


During a session, practitioners use oscillating and pressure techniques that differ in force and speed. Tuina massage can be done as a stronger deep-tissue massage or a more gentle, energetic treatment.

Some techniques are more yin, which is more gentle, passive, and meditative. The yang approach is more active, dynamic, and physical, creating more intense sensations by stimulating deep blockages and knots.

The practitioner massages the muscles and tendons and uses manipulation techniques to realign the body. Passive joint movements are used to restore function to muscles and joints.

Depending on your practitioner as well as your specific needs, various techniques will be used in a session. To enhance the effects of the treatment, herbal poultices or compresses, lotions, and salves are used.

Tuina massage uses massage techniques such as acupressure, myofascial release, and reflexology. Sometimes, techniques that are common to osteopathy and chiropractic, such as stretching and joint mobilizations, are also used.

There are eight basic techniques used in tuina massage:

  • palpating (mo 摸)
  • rejoining (jie 接)
  • opposing (duan 端)
  • lifting (ti 提)
  • pressing (an 按)
  • kneading (mo 摩)
  • pushing (tui 推)
  • holding (na 拿)

What does it help?

Tuina massage can be used to manage specific health concerns or areas in the body. Since tuina massage is considered to be an alternative treatment, it’s essential that you talk to your doctor before using it to manage any medical condition.

Tuina massage can be used to relieve pain and illness, or to maintain good health. The technique is effective in reducing stress, encouraging relaxation, and deepening sleep. It’s often used for conditions and injuries related to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.

Here are some conditions tuina massage can help:

  • neck and back pain
  • musculoskeletal disorders
  • premenstrual syndrome
  • fatigue and insomnia
  • carpal tunnel
  • headaches
  • arthritis
  • stress
  • digestive conditions
  • respiratory conditions


While some of the research is preliminary and ongoing, there’s plenty of evidence to back the effectiveness of tuina massage in helping health conditions. Let’s see what some of the studies say about the benefits.

Boosts blood circulation

One of the main intentions of tuina massage is to boost blood circulation by stimulating the body’s energy flow. A small 2015 study (1) indicates that yi zhi chan tuina manipulation on BL 56 acupoint is effective in improving circulation. In this study, manipulation using medium force for 10 minutes was found to be more effective than treatments using light or heavy force for shorter amounts of time.

Manages musculoskeletal disorders

Tuina massage is often used to improve function and reduce pain affecting the joints, bones, and muscles. A 2017 review and meta-analysis (2) points to the effectiveness of tuina massage in helping musculoskeletal disorders. The technique was shown to be effective in relieving pain, especially compared to traction, medication, and physical therapies. Evidence to support better function wasn’t as strong as pain reduction.

Benefits foot issues from diabetes

Tuina massage can be beneficial for people with diabetes who have foot issues. A 2018 study (3)found that tuina massage combined with a Chinese medicine foot bath was therapeutically beneficial for people with early-stage diabetic foot. People who received tuina massage and a foot bath in addition to conventional medicine showed significant improvements compared to people who received only conventional medicine.

Tuina massage is a safe treatment and is generally well-tolerated. However, remember that it’s not a gentle or relaxing massage, and you may feel some discomfort during or after a session. Slight bruising is possible.

  1. Lei F, Min F, Shichao J, Hua C. Optimization of parameters of Yi Zhi Chan Tuina manipulation promotes peripheral circulation. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2015 Oct 15;35(5):558-63.
  2. Lee NW, Kim GH, Heo I, Kim KW, Ha IH, Lee JH, Hwang EH, Shin BC. Chuna (or Tuina) manual therapy for musculoskeletal disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2017 Dec 26;2017.
  3. Tao WW, Jiang H, Tao XM, Jiang P, Sha LY, Sun XC. Effects of acupuncture, Tuina, Tai Chi, Qigong, and traditional Chinese medicine five-element music therapy on symptom management and quality of life for cancer patients: a meta-analysis. Journal of pain and symptom management. 2016 Apr 1;51(4):728-47.