Debunking Myths and Misconceptions About Tui Na

Tui Na Massage

Tui Na, one of the main therapeutic modalities of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has been practised for over 2,000 years. However, like many ancient practices that have found their way to the West, it has been met with a mix of intrigue, respect, and unfortunately, misconceptions.

In this article, I aim to debunk some of these myths and misconceptions and share the beauty and benefits of this ancient therapeutic craft. 

1. Tui Na is just another form of massage

While Tui Na is often referred to as “Chinese massage,” comparing it to the general understanding of massage can be misleading. The primary goal of most Western forms of massage such as the Swedish massage is to relax the body and provide some relief from muscle tension.

On the other hand, Tui Na aims to treat specific medical conditions and adjust the flow of Qi (life force energy) in the body. Basically, it does not merely focus on muscles but also manipulates joints and uses acupressure to affect the flow of energy along meridians.

2. Tui Na is painful

Some might argue that it can be painful. However, this is not entirely true. It is essential to understand that Tui Na practitioners are trained to apply varying pressure based on your needs and concerns. That said, they do adjust the pressure based on your condition and your comfort levels. So, while some techniques may feel intense, they shouldn’t be unbearably painful.

If you do experience uncomfortable levels of pain during your session, make sure to communicate with your practitioner so they can adjust accordingly.

3. Tui Na is only for muscle and joint problems

While Tui Na is excellent for treating musculoskeletal issues, its applications are vast. This is because TCM follows the idea that any imbalances in our Qi can cause disease and illnesses. With this, Tui Na is believed to be effective in treating various problems and conditions such as frozen shoulder syndrome, hypertension, asthma, bronchitis, stomach ulcers, menstrual irregularities, infertility, and even mental health issues.

4. Tui Na and acupuncture serve the same purpose

Tui Na and acupuncture are both traditional Chinese healing modalities, but they serve somewhat different purposes and use distinct techniques.

Tui Na

  • It involves the manipulation of soft tissues and muscles using techniques like kneading, rolling, stretching, and pressing.
  • It is primarily focused on improving the flow of Qi and blood within the body, releasing tension in muscles and joints, and promoting relaxation and overall well-being.
  • It is most commonly used to treat musculoskeletal issues, such as back pain, neck pain, and joint pain. That said, as mentioned above, it can also be used to treat a variety of conditions.


  • It involves the insertion of thin, sterile needles into specific acupuncture points on the body.
  • It is primarily focused on balancing the flow of Qi and restoring harmony within the body’s energy system.
  • It is mostly used for pain management, digestive disorders, stress and anxiety, fertility issues, and many other health concerns.

While these two treatment methods may overlap, their purpose and healing approaches are different. That said, they can complement each other in treatment plans. For example, a practitioner might use Tui Na to relax the muscles and then apply acupuncture to address underlying imbalances. This combined approach leverages both therapies’ strengths for a holistic healing experience.

5. All Tui Na sessions are the same

Tui Na is as individual as its recipient. Practitioners often tailor their sessions based on the person’s unique situation, presenting symptoms, and underlying imbalances. As such, the techniques, pressure, and focus areas may vary from one session to another.

6. Tui Na is only beneficial if you believe in Qi and meridians

The effectiveness of Tui Na isn’t solely based on belief. While the concept of Qi and meridians might be central to TCM, many people find relief and benefit from Tui Na without fully understanding or believing in these principles. The physical manipulations in Tui Na can have observable benefits, including increased circulation, reduced muscle tension, and enhanced joint mobility.

7. Tui Na is not safe for everyone

Like any therapeutic modality, there are instances when Tui Na might not be recommended, such as directly after a traumatic injury, during certain stages of pregnancy, or over areas with skin infections. That said, in the hands of a trained and qualified practitioner, Tui Na can be safely tailored to fit most people’s needs, considering their unique circumstances and health conditions.

8. Tui Na is only about applying pressure

Since Tui Na is a form of massage, people often think it is purely about applying pressure to certain parts of the body. However, Tui Na encompasses a wide variety of techniques, all of which have certain purposes:

TechniqueChinese TermPurpose
PalpatingMoThrough touch and feel, the practitioner identifies areas of tension, energy blockages, and Qi imbalances
RejoiningJieThis technique aims to bridge gaps between various body components, ensuring seamless energy transitions.
OpposingDuanThis technique actively neutralises any issues in your QI and restores it to its natural equilibrium.
LiftingTiIn a gentle manner, tissues are lifted to increase Qi flow and release any tension.
PressingAnBy exerting precise pressure, practitioners are able to stimulate or soothe specific pain points.
KneadingRouThis involves the rhythmic pressing of tissues to remove knots and improve overall circulation.
PushingTuiApplying force in straight pathways, this method aids in steering Qi and blood more effectively.
HoldingNaGrasping or holding specific areas, often muscles or joints, to enhance energy flow or release tension.

The combination of techniques used during your session will vary depending on your specific needs.

9. Tui Na can replace all therapies

This is not entirely true. While Tui Na is potent and versatile, it’s not a one-size-fits-all remedy or a standalone solution for all health issues.

Instead, Tui Na often works best when integrated with other therapeutic modalities. For instance, combining Tui Na with acupuncture can amplify the therapeutic effects for certain ailments, offering both immediate relief and long-term healing.

10. Tui Na’s effects are only placebo

Though the placebo effect can play a role in any therapy, attributing Tui Na’s effectiveness solely to this underestimates its therapeutic impact. Numerous patients, both believers and sceptics, have reported tangible benefits from Tui Na sessions.

In addition, while it’s true that TCM modalities, including Tui Na, operate on principles different from Western medicine, that doesn’t mean they lack scientific validation. Numerous studies have investigated Tui Na’s effects, showing positive outcomes, especially concerning pain management and musculoskeletal conditions. Examples of journals where you can read about the effectiveness of Tui Na are the following: Trials, Clinical Rehabilitation, Pain Medicine, and The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

11. Tui Na is a static, unchanging practice

Like all medical practices, Tui Na has evolved over millennia, incorporating new techniques and refining old ones. Modern Tui Na might integrate knowledge from other therapeutic modalities while still grounded in TCM’s foundational principles.

12. Practitioners don’t need formal training to practice Tui Na

This is not true.

Sure, one might think that Tui Na, being a form of massage, doesn’t require rigorous training compared to other TCM practices like acupuncture. However, a qualified Tui Na practitioner undergoes extensive training to understand the body’s meridians, Qi flow, and a myriad of techniques to treat various conditions effectively.

There are also standards that governing bodies have set in order to ensure the safety of people and maintain the quality of Tui Na. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has a set of benchmarks for the training of Tui Na. The Ministry of Health (MOH) also has a set of standards a practitioner must achieve in order to be registered as a TCM practitioner.

Final Thoughts

Understanding Tui Na in its authentic form requires us to step away from some of the prevailing myths and misconceptions. This ancient therapeutic modality, rooted deeply in the holistic philosophy of TCM, offers a unique approach to wellness and healing that goes beyond the confines of what many in the West understand as “massage.”

As such, I hope this article was able to dispel any of your preconceived notions about Tui Na and you appreciate this therapeutic art.



Denisse loves reading and writing about culture, history, and politics. Outside writing articles for The Singaporean, Denisse enjoys musicals, gaming, and Harry Potter.

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