What Is Tui Na?

By Jennifer Dubowsky
Jennifer Dubowsky
Jennifer Dubowsky
May 20, 2014 Updated: May 20, 2014

Tui na (pronounced “twee nah”) is a form of Asian bodywork that has been used in China for centuries and is the oldest known system of massage. Like many other modalities in Chinese Medicine, tui na techniques were described in The Yellow Emperor’s Classics of Internal Medicine which was written about 2,500 years ago. It literally translates as ‘push and grasp’ in Chinese and is an important treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments.            

Tui na is different from a Swedish or deep tissue massage, the two types of massage that are commonly practiced in the U.S.  First of all, during tui na, you are dressed in your own comfortable clothing and are seated in a chair or lying on a massage table. The practitioner not only uses her hands on your arms, legs and back but also employs her elbows and knees in a  variety of manipulations that include compression, pressing, kneading and tapping. There are some similarities between tui na and acupressure (using pressure instead of needles on acupuncture points) in that both techniques have the same goal – to stimulate acupoints during the massage. Your practitioner’s intention is to encourage the flow of qi, rebalance energy and of course, help you to feel your best.

Indications for the Use of Tui na

Tui na is helpful with a variety of complaints, including neck, back, muscle pain, constipation, PMS and other conditions where body manipulation can be very effective.

Often tui na sessions are vigorous so you may not find it to be as relaxing as other forms of massage. There is certainly stronger and more active work on the part of the tui na massage therapist than is commonly experienced when you have a spa massage. Some patients feel sore after a session but that doesn’t usually last long. Tui Na is used medicinally in hospitals in China and the manipulations help free unmoving energy as well as tight joints and muscles. 


If patients suffer from certain conditions, I advise them to avoid tui na. Problems such as osteoporosis or conditions involving fractures dictate passing up tui na. Also, if you have an infectious disease, skin problem or an open wound, stay away from this type of massage.

 I have benefited from tui na and consider it a valuable tool but I am personally not a gifted tui na practitioner. I refer to others if any of my patients have a condition that would benefit from tui na or if patient expresses interested in this type of massage. I have found that good tui na practitioners are hard to find in the U.S., so if anyone knows some good people, please point them my way!

Jennifer Dubowsky, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in downtown Chicago, Illinois, since 2002. Dubowsky earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from University of Illinois in Chicago and her Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, Colorado. During her studies, she completed an internship at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital in Beijing, China. Dubowsky has researched and written articles on Chinese medicine and has given talks on the topic. She maintains a popular blog about health and Chinese medicine at Acupuncture Blog Chicago. Adventures in Chinese Medicine is her first book. You can find her at www.tcm007.com.

*Image of “massage” via Shutterstock

Jennifer Dubowsky
Jennifer Dubowsky