MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Tui Na is a massage technique that is based on the Taoist principles of TCM. It involves a range of manipulations usually performed by an operator’s finger, hand, elbow, knee, or foot applied to muscle or soft tissue at specific parts of the body. According to one website of TCM-proponents “Tui Na makes use of various hand techniques in combination with acupuncture and other manipulation techniques. To enhance the healing process, the practitioner may recommend the use of Chinese herbs. Many of the techniques used in this massage resemble that of a western massage like gliding, kneading, vibration, tapping, friction, pulling, rolling, pressing and shaking. In Tui Na massage, the muscles and tendons are massaged with the help of hands, and an acupressure technique is applied to directly affect the flow of Qi at different acupressure points of the body, thus facilitating the healing process. It removes the blockages and keeps the energy moving through the meridians as well as the muscles. A typical session of Tui Na massage may vary from thirty minutes to an hour. The session timings may vary depending on the patient’s needs and condition. The best part of the therapy is that it relaxes as well as energizes the person. The main benefit of Tui Na massage is that it focuses on the specific problem, whether it is an acute or a chronic pain associated with the joints, muscles or a skeletal system. This technique is very beneficial in reducing the pain of neck, shoulders, hips, back, arms, highs, legs and ankle disorders. It is a very effective therapy for arthritis, pain, sciatica and muscle spasms. Other benefits of this massage therapy include alleviation of the stress related disorders like insomnia, constipation, headaches and other disorders related to digestive, respiratory and reproductive systems. The greatest advantage of Tui Na is that it focuses on maintaining overall balance with both physical and mental health. Any one who wants to avoid the side effects of drugs or a chemical based treatment can adopt this effective massage technique to alleviate their pain. Tui Na massage therapy is now becoming a more common therapy method due to its focus on specific problems rather than providing a general treatment.”

This clearly begs the question IS IT EFFECTIVE?

This systematic review assessed the evidence of Tui Na for cervical radiculopathy. Seven databases were searched. Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) incorporating Tui Na alone or Tui Na combined with conventional treatment were included. Five studies involving 448 patients were found. The pooled analysis from the 3 trials indicated that Tui Na alone showed a significant lowering immediate effects on pain score with moderate heterogeneity compared to cervical traction. The meta-analysis from 2 trials revealed significant immediate effects of Tui Na plus cervical traction in improving pain score with no heterogeneity compared to cervical traction alone. None of the RCTs mentioned adverse effects. There was very low quality or low quality evidence to support the results.

The authors concluded that “Tui Na alone or Tui Na plus cervical traction may be helpful to cervical radiculopathy patients, but supportive evidence seems generally weak. Future clinical studies with low risk of bias and adequate follow-up design are recommended.”

In my view, this is a misleading conclusion. A correct one would have been: THE CURRENT EVIDENCE IS INSUFFICIENT TO DRAW ANY CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE EFFECTIVENESS OF TUI NA.

Why?

Here are some of the most obvious reasons:

Personally, I am getting very tired of conclusions stating ‘…XY MAY BE EFFECTIVE/HELPFUL/USEFUL/WORTH A TRY…’ It is obvious that the therapy in question MAY be effective, otherwise one would surely not conduct a systematic review. If a review fails to produce good evidence, it is the authors’ ethical, moral and scientific obligation to state this clearly. If they don’t, they simply misuse science for promotion and mislead the public. Strictly speaking, this amounts to scientific misconduct.

4 Responses to Tui Na for radiculopathy: another systematic review bordering on scientific misconduct

  • XY MAY BE EFFECTIVE/HELPFUL/USEFUL/WORTH A TRY

    The trouble is that anything at all *may* be. Santa Claus *may* exist, when I let go of a book, air molecules *may* gather beneath it and project it into space, transcendental meditation *may* enable me to walk through walls, I *may* win the lottery even though I don’t play, I *may* discover an anaconda in Lake Ontario, that Nigerian inheritance proposal I got in the mail *may* be genuine … and I am utterly incapable of disproving any of these possibilities. At most, I can point out that these claims don’t ever seem to work out, whereas other less outlandish claims do.

    This, to me, is the hallmark of the swindler: he/she uses the honesty of the scientific/skeptical method to seemingly defeat those who are doing their best to find out what is true. It is why, I think, that teaching the scientific/skeptical method should be taught from as young an age as possible, before any other skill. The main problem, I think, is religion. Religionists will never accept it.

  • I misread it as ‘ridiculopathy’. I’m sticking with my version.

  • I have had radiculopathy twice.

    I relied on the most proven “cure” known; I waited until the discomfort disappeared, as do most. If it persisted and worsened, I would have seen a neurosurgeon and had a simple day surgery that has very good results.

    I doubt Tui Na has as many “happy endings”. 🙂

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