The most powerful tools parents can use to keep their children healthy and treat the symptoms of illness are pedatric tuina massage and acupressure. Both methods involve tapping into the body’s energetic system to stimulate the innate healing mechanisms which are designed to bring the body back to balance and restore health. The belief and use of the energetic system is the cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and has been used in the diagnosis and treatment of illness for thousands of years. I like to think of this energetic system as an additional system in the body, like the circulatory system or the nervous system. It simultaneously covers and connects our body to the nervous system and the energy carried within it nourishes and connects every organ, gland, muscle, tissue and cell with Qi (pronounced chee), or energy. Our energetic system will be the first system to show imbalances even before a person is symptomatic. In children, subtle signs of an imbalance will usually be very mild and most parents might not notice things such as red cheeks, crankiness, clingyiness, excess thirst or hunger, lack of appetite or mild fatigue. It would be easy to write these symptoms off until, through experience, it becomes clear that this is the first stage of a potential illness.
What is Pediatric Tuina Massage?
Pediatric tuina massage or Xiao er tui na is used by acupuncturists to tap into the energetic system thereby simultaneously treating the symptoms of illness and restoring the body to balance. Pediatric tuina massage is most effective for children under the age of 5. Just as a baby and toddler’s nervous system and circulatory system are not fully mature, neither is their energetic system. Thus, special techniques have been developed to tap into their immature energetic system. For children 6 and up I recommend using acupressure although pediatric tuina techniques can still be used up to age 12.
The techniques used for pediatric tuina are quite simple and can be used by parents for treating illnesses like the common cold, cough, fever, vomitting, low appetite, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and bedwetting. In future posts I will be covering how to treat these common conditions with specific massage protocols. For now, I’d like to introduce you to the various massage techniques are that used. Love is most times the best medicine for children and it’s power should not be underestimated. I think pediatric tuina massage is an extension of that love and can be very healing. Of course, pediatric tuina cannot cure all ills and a trip to the doctor may be necessary, but very often massage will work for the most common problems children face.
Steps to Take Before You Start the Massage
1. Make sure your finger nails are trimmed and the edges are smooth so you don’t accidentally scratch and hurt your child.
2. You will need a massage medium to put on your hands and the child’s skin. Talcum powder makes a good massage medium, although you can also use massage oil or lotion, preferably one that is free of petrochemicals and fragrance.
3. Make sure the room where you’ll be working is warm so your child doesn’t get cold during the massage.
4. Be loving and gentle during the massage. Check in with them, if they’re old enough, to see if the pressure is comfortable. Sometimes children will fuss or cry out during the massage. Work gently with them, reduce the pressure being used, change the spot you’re working or position them differently to make them more comfortable. Talk soothingly to them and tell them how great their doing; never get mad or punish the child during massage.
Pediatric Tuina Techniques
The following techniques are used to perform pediatric tuina massage. Unlike swedish type massage where muscles are mostly kneaded, you’ll be stroking, pushing, pulling and pressing various points on the body. To be effective these movements should be gentle yet firm with even rhythmic movements. Most manipulations will be performed anywhere from 50 to 300 times in rapid succession. I have found it easier to time the massage on certain points than to count how many strokes I’ve used. For mild illness massages should be performed once a day and for more severe or acute illness such as flu, fever or cough massages should be performed 2 – 3 times per day.
1. Straight Pushing
Push your thumb or index + middle finger in a straight line. This is often used on the forearm, fingers and back.
2. Pushing Apart
Starting with your thumbs at a single location, push them apart. This is often used on the forehead and chest.
Press one or two fingers on a point or area rotating them in a circular motion without lifting of the skin. Kneading can also be apply with three fingers, the palm of the hand, the thenar emminence or fatty pad below your thumb or your thumb.
4. Circular Rubbing
Rub the abdomen in a circular motion with four fingers or the palm of your hand. It is most commonly used for abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea.
5. Pinching & Pulling
This technique is commonly used on the paraspinal muscles, the muscles next to the spine. Always start at the base of the spine and move upward in a straight line progressing up to the neck. Grab a small amount of muscle tissues and pinch it up between your index finger and thumb with a firm but gentle pressure. Then continue to roll your thumbs forward as you release and grab more muscle tissue. Be sure to use plenty of talcum power so you don’t cause any chafing. This technique is used for general wellness, common cold and respiratory conditions.
Press a point or area and hold for a few seconds 3 – 5 times in a row to help relieve pain and discomfort. This is usually done with the thumb or the palm of the hand.
Stimulate specific points with gentle pressure from your thumb nail. It doesn’t take much pressure for the point to be adequately stimulate so be careful not to press too hard.
8. Arc/Circle Pushing
Use your thumb to make a circle with gentle but firm pressure. This techniques is most commonly used on the palm of the hand.
Word of Caution
Do not perform massage over cuts, abrasions, open wounds, cysts or other tumors. Please be cautious if you child is taking heavy medications. If your child has spinal cord trauma and cannot give you feedback, use only the lightest, gentlest touch.
Why is My Kid So Cranky? By Robin Green, L.Ac., MTCM
Chinese Pediatric Massage Therapy by Fan Ya-Li
Chinese Pediatric Massage a Practitioners Guide by Kyle Cline, LMT
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