MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

I had thought that I know most alternative therapies. However, Shujing massage was new to me. It seems to be a massage technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) along the Yin/Yang concept; a bit like Shiatsu perhaps.

Does it work?

This study might easily be the first to address this question. It was aimed at comparing the efficacy on insomnia between shujing massage therapy and medication with estazolam.

Eighty patients with insomnia were randomized into a shujing massage therapy group and a medication group. The massage was applied along the gallbladder meridian on the temporal area. Pressing and kneading manipulations were performed at Yangbai (GB 14), Benshen (GB 13), Toulinqi (GB 15), Zhengying (GB 17), Chengling (GB 18), Shuaigu (GB 8), and Fengchi (GB 20), etc. one minute at each acupoint. In the medication group, 1 mg estazolam was administered orally half an hour before sleep. The treatments were given once every day in both groups. After one month, the sub-scores and the total score of the Pittsburgh sleep quality index scale (PSQI) and the clinical efficacy were compared between the two groups.

After the intervention, the each sub-score of PSQI was improved as compared with that before treatment in the patients of the two groups. The differences in sleep time and the time for falling into sleep were not significant between the two groups. In the shujing massage group, the scores of sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbance and daytime dysfunction, as well as the total score were all lower than those in the medication group. The response rate was 92.1% (35/38) in the shujing massage group and 84. 2% (32/38) in the medication group.

The Chinese authors concluded that Shujing massage therapy achieves the superior efficacy on insomnia compared with the oral administration of estazolam.

Sadly, this study is less conclusive as TCM-enthusiasts may think:

  • the study was not blind; therefore placebo-effects might have produced a false-positive result;
  • any massage is relaxing; therefore the effect could be entirely unrelated to TCM-philosophy;
  • it is likely that the regular ritual of a massage has a beneficial effect on sleep;
  • before we agree with these findings, we should insist on an independent confirmation via a more rigorous study.

I think that, before we accept the ‘efficacy’ of this TCM-treatment, we should see much more convincing evidence.

3 Responses to Ever heard about ‘Shujing Massage’?

  • What about repeating this, but telling patients it is done for e.g. immunity? Massage is immunity boosting and pill has some newly discovered whatever? Because if it works for insomnia, it will work. Although the sleeping pills will have to be replaced with placebo and even then, I am afraid, such study won’t be permitted.

  • It seems as though there was no significant difference between the groups. 1mg seems a low dose for a medication; is this a usual dose? When was the massage done in relation to sleep time? Even if both are equally effective (big IF), the massage seems labor intensive and inconvenient versus taking a small pill. There were too many subjective end points to be able to say much about the meaning of these results.

  • “any massage is relaxing; therefore the effect could be entirely unrelated to TCM-philosophy;”

    In the abstract that you link to, there’s no mention of any TCM philosophy. It’s simply a massage of the head, and the sequence in mapped out using anatomical landmarks from the Chinese system (GB 3, rather than “in the depression on the upper border of the zygomatic arch”).

    Where are you getting the “TCM-philosophy” from?

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