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Tuina Massage

A flexible and unique therapy

Tuina medical massage is a system of bodywork that has been used in China for many hundreds of years. It is still used and has an important role in modern hospitals and clinics in China for the treatment of many pain conditions that might be treated by a physiotherapist, or osteopath/chiropractor here in the UK.

A tuina therapist has training in anatomy and Western medical science but as tuina is a part of traditional Chinese medicine, a tuina practitioner also uses the framework of acupoints and the meridian (or channel system) to view and apply treatment to the body.  In practice this means that when treating pain (tennis elbow for example), a tuina therapist will treat acupoints and channels that might correspond to tendon attachment points, or muscle bands. One way of translating the use of the meridian system to a western medical viewpoint is that acupoints and channels efficiently lead a practitioner to the most likely areas on the body that are injured or that hold tension.

It is the massage techniques however that most distinguish tuina from other forms of bodywork. Some of the techniques that are used are quite unlike and feel quite different to receive compared to massage techniques that might be more familiar in the west. There is generally a more consistent and firmer pressure applied with tuina techniques than with western massage. For example, tuina techniques are complex manual manoeuvres that take much time to learn how to apply the strong pressure and include techniques such as rolling, or plucking, or pressing. These techniques can often be focussed on a particular problem area for 10 minutes or more before moving on.  The reason for this is that it takes time to allow the tissues of the body to relax and to release the tension they hold. Because tuina zeroes in on the painful, tense and problem areas, the treatment might feel tender at the beginning, but after a few minutes the feeling of tight muscles relaxing and normally stiff tissues becoming more mobile becomes apparent and well received.

Receiving this type of focused massage is obviously beneficial for our bodies and injured tissues, but it is also beneficial for our minds simply because we are encouraged and guided to a more relaxed state through treatment. When a tuina therapist works on a painful and tense area for long enough and with a skilled technique, the effects on the tissues (and the mind) are often felt for several hours or even days. It is becoming more and more generally accepted in the UK that the tensions we build up in our bodies are at least in part linked to the tension and stress that we experience in our minds and day-to-day lives, and so drawing the patients attention to (and enabling the relaxation of) physical tension will also have a relaxing effect on our minds. This process can lead to the alleviation of many stress-based conditions such as tension headaches, IBS, or anxiety and insomnia.

Tuina in the UK is most often provided in complementary health clinics but can also be used to treat people in any location. There is no absolute need to use a massage table as treatment can be given in patient’s homes while seated on a chair or a stool, or with the patient lying on a sofa or a bed. The massage is also given with the patient remaining fully clothed and tuina does not normally use oil to lubricate the skin. These things combined mean that tuina massage is very suited to treating disabled or injured patients who might find it difficult to get to a clinic or lie down for extended periods on a massage table.

 Zarig Cooper (A leading tuina therapist based in London)



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