Shiatsu vs. Tui Na: How Do They Compare And Which Is Better?

Shiatsu vs. Tui Na: How Do They Compare And Which Is Better?

When comparing shiatsu vs tui na, first we have to understand what each of these massage techniques entail.

Both of these massage therapy techniques are used as a form of complementary and alternative medicine.

Recap: What is shiatsu massage?

Shiatsu massage originated in Japan, based on principles borrowed from traditional Chinese medicine.

The goal of shiatsu is to enable the body to begin healing itself.

As it’s practiced today, shiatsu uses a combination of traditional Chinese medicine, Japanese, and Western massage techniques.

The thumbs, forefingers, and palms of the hands are mainly used when practicing the shiatsu massage technique.

“Shiatsu” comes from the Japanese words for “finger pressure.”

In traditional Chinese medicine, ailments of the body are believed to stem from imbalances of the flow of energy inside the person’s body. One of the goals of shiatsu, at least in theory, is to help correct these imbalances.

Closely related to the traditional Chinese medicine practices of acupressure and acupuncture, shiatsu uses a map of the human body that focuses on pressure points.

In traditional Chinese medicine, energy or “chi” (also spelled “qi”) flows through the body along pathways called meridians, and these pressure points represent points at which the flow of chi may become blocked (see also Reiki).

These blockages are then thought to cause symptoms such as pain and circulatory problems.

Shiatsu massage techniques are typically performed with the client fully clothed, although the practitioner may ask the client to take off his or her shoes.

The massage therapy is traditionally performed on a mat on the floor, although techniques may be adapted to take place on a massage table or while the client is sitting in a chair.

No oils or lotions are used in shiatsu massage.

What do shiatsu students learn about?

In a shiatsu massage therapy learning program, students may learn some of the following:

What is tui na massage?

Tui na, sometimes spelled tuina, is also a bodywork technique derived from traditional Chinese medicine.

One important difference in shiatsu vs tui na is that while shiatsu techniques rely mainly on the fingers and palms of the hands, tui na massage technique uses the hands as well as the elbow, foot, and knee to apply pressure to the body’s acupressure points.

These techniques are thought to help stimulate emotional wellness as well as physical health.

Like shiatsu, tui na is meant to relieve blockages in the flow of chi inside the body, thought to be resulting in pain and other symptoms.

As in shiatsu massage therapy, tui na is thought to help stimulate the body into beginning its own healing process.

Meaning “pushing and grasping,” tui na incorporates a large number of bodywork techniques. These include shaking, stretching, stroking, and moving the joints.

Unlike some forms of Western massage that require the client to remove clothing for treatment, tui na is most often performed with the client fully clothed.

Clients are encouraged to wear lose, comfortable clothing.

As in shiatsu massage, the practitioner does not use any lotions or oils on the client.

Because tui na is a modality of traditional Chinese medicine, it’s often used in conjunction with other traditional Chinese medicine practices, such as Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture.

As a practice of traditional Chinese medicine, tui na is one of the oldest massage therapy modalities known to humanity.

It has been around since at least 1700 BCE, when it was used to treat digestive problems in adults and some diseases in children.

This form of Chinese massage therapy has been in use in the West since the 1970s.

What do tui na students learn about?

Aspiring massage therapy practitioners who learn tui na techniques may study traditional Chinese medicine practices that include:

  • Acupuncture and meridian points in traditional Chinese medicine
  • Chi nei tsang (Chinese organ massage)
  • Fundamentals of anatomy
  • Fundamentals of physiology
  • How to treat common client complaints
  • Professional guidelines and practice management
  • Traditional Chinese medicine principles of client assessment

Who benefits from these massage techniques?

In looking at shiatsu vs tui na, let’s look at who benefits from each of these types of massage technique.

People who seek out shiatsu massage include those looking for relief from stress, illness, and pain, as well as individuals who want to promote general well-being.

Conditions for which people have sought treatment using shiatsu massage technique include:

  • Acute back and neck pain
  • Arthritis
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic pain
  • Circulatory problems
  • Joint problems
  • Lymphatic system issues
  • Poor posture
  • Pregnancy discomfort
  • Sciatica
  • Sinusitis
  • Sprains

Health conditions that have been treated using tui na massage techniques include:

  • Acute back and neck pain
  • Arthritis
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Joint pain
  • Migraines
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Stress

What are some potentials drawbacks of these techniques?

Both shiatsu and tui na are generally considered safe forms of complementary and alternative medicine for most people of all ages, including infants.

However, there are some people who should consult with a licensed health care provider before considering using any form of massage therapy as part of their treatment.

These people might include:

  • Anyone being treated for a bone fracture
  • Anyone with severe osteoporosis
  • People known to suffer from bleeding disorders
  • People with burns on their skin
  • People with low blood platelet counts (thrombocytopenia)
  • People with wounds in the process of healing
  • Those who take blood-thinning medications
  • Those who’ve previously suffered from deep vein thrombosis

Both shiatsu and tui na massage practitioners should go over a health checklist with their clients before beginning massage therapy to make sure that the client doesn’t have any of these conditions.

Those who are pregnant should also get a health care provider’s advice before undergoing any form of massage therapy.

In people who aren’t experiencing any of these conditions, massage therapy including tui na and shiatsu massage therapy may have some, usually mild, side effects.

These include mild soreness that goes away within a day or two.

Shiatsu vs tui na: Which is better?

As we’ve seen, shiatsu and tui na massage modalities can be applied to a wide variety of conditions within the human body, from general wellness to relaxation to pain and some illness conditions.

Both are based on traditional Chinese medicine practices, although shiatsu techniques originate in Japan.

These techniques both operate on the principle that health and wellness can be stimulated by balancing the flow of energy, or chi, inside the body by massaging certain pressure points at which chi can get blocked.

The main difference between shiatsu vs tui na massage techniques is the part of the body that the massage practitioner uses.

While shiatsu uses mainly the hand, focusing on the thumbs, forefingers, and palms of the hands to stimulate pressure points, tui na can use a wider range of the body to stimulate these points, including the foot, knee, and elbow.

Both shiatsu and tui na massage therapy can be used to relieve a wide variety of client complaints, including back pain and joint problems.

These two forms of massage therapy are generally thought to be safe for most clients, although there are a few categories of people who should always consult a licensed health care professional before having shiatsu or tui na massage therapy performed.

Both modalities of bodywork are thought to have few side effects in a healthy person.


Love Shiatsu?
Get the Shiatsu massage content that we don't post publicly.

Deep Shiatsu
Author: Deep Shiatsu
Preserve your ki, and restore your health and balance with an ancient Japanese artform.
Join our community and learn more.