MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Tuina is a massage therapy that originates from Traditional Chinese Medicine. Many of the techniques used in tuina resemble those of a western massage like gliding, kneading, vibration, tapping, friction, pulling, rolling, pressing, and shaking. Tuina involves a range of manipulations usually performed by the therapist’s finger, hand, elbow, knee, or foot. They are applied to muscle or soft tissue at specific locations of the body.

The aim of Tuina is to enhance the flow of the ‘vital energy’ or ‘chi’, that is alleged to control our health. Proponents of the therapy recommend Tuina for a range of conditions, including paediatric ones. Paediatric Tuina has been widely used in children with acute diarrhea in China. However, due to a lack of high-quality clinical evidence, the benefit of Tuina is not clear.

This study aimed to assess the effect of paediatric Tuina compared with sham Tuina as add-on therapy in addition to usual care for 0-6-year-old children with acute diarrhea.

Eighty-six participants aged 0-6 years with acute diarrhea were randomized to receive Tuina plus usual care (n = 43) or sham Tuina plus usual care (n = 43). The primary outcomes were days of diarrhea from baseline and times of diarrhea on day 3. Secondary outcomes included a global change rating (GCR) and the number of days when the stool characteristics returned to normal. Adverse events were assessed.

Tuina treatment in the intervention group was performed on the surface of the children’s body using moderate pressure (Fig. 1a). Tuina treatment in the control group was different: the therapist used one hand to hold the child’s hand or put one hand on the child’s body, while the other hand performed manipulations on the therapist’s own hand instead of the child’s hand or body (Fig. ​(Fig.11b).

Tuina was associated with a reduction in times of diarrhea on day 3 compared with sham Tuina in both ITT and per-protocol analyses. However, the results were not significant when adjusted for social-demographic and clinical characteristics. No significant difference was found between groups in days of diarrhea, global change rating, or number of days when the stool characteristics returned to normal.

The authors concluded that in children aged 0-6 years with acute diarrhea, pediatric Tuina showed significant effects in terms of reducing times of diarrhea compared with sham Tuina. Studies with larger sample sizes and adjusted trial designs are warranted to further evaluate the effect of pediatric Tuina therapy.

This study was well-reported and has interesting features, such as the attempt to use a placebo control and blinding (whether blinding was successful is a different matter and was not tested in the trial). It is, therefore, all the more surprising that the essentially negative result is turned into a positive one. After adjustment, the differences disappear (a fact which the authors hardly mention in the paper), which means they are not due to the treatment but to group differences and confounding. This, in turn, means that the study shows not the effectiveness but the ineffectiveness of Tuina.

6 Responses to Tuina for childhood diarrhoea: a new study with a negative result and a positive conclusion

  • This, in turn, means that the study shows not the effectiveness but the ineffectiveness of Tuina.

    I don’t think this study is sufficiently powered to show the ineffectiveness of Tuina. It is much more difficult to demonstrate the absence of an effect in a randomised trial and generally requires larger numbers than used here.

  • regardless this is typical of SCAM “conclusions” drawn from their so-called research. No matter whether the result is negative or inconclusive it will almost always be reported as “showing significant effects.” and being positive.

    Furthermore there will almost always be the rider “Studies with larger sample sizes are warranted to further evaluate the effect,…….” and so on ad infinitum.

    One ALWAYS has to critique the study in great detail as the “conclusions” will always be highly suspect and more often than not misleading or outright lies. And no matter how hopelessly futile the results appear to be there will almost inevitably be the call for “further research into this promising therapy.”

    Can anyone quote me a SCAM study where the authors have concluded something like: “this well designed study which has further added to the extensive body of research documenting that X has no effect beyond that of placebo in the treatment of Y must surely signal that further studies in this area are futile and a waste of valuable research resources.”?

    No – I bet it’s never happened because SCAMsters never give up – they just keep flogging the same dead horses for centuries pretending they are producing positive results.
    Because they just “believe” or “know” that Tuina or whatever other fantasy lunacy of the week it is they are into – no amount of evidence of rational argument will ever change their mind-sets.

    Their research is not based on the scientific principle of testing the null hypothesis or the curiosity of seeing if something is true or not. They do research in order to prove that what they believe IS true – if the research doesn’t bear that out then the research is WRONG!. You keep repeating it until it gives you the answer you WANT.

  • It is, therefore, all the more surprising that the essentially negative result is turned into a positive one.

    Don’t confuse me with the facts.

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