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Tradition Mission

Touch of health

Updated: 2014-02-18
By Lin Hanqing (chinadaily.com.cn)
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What does one do if a small child doesn't want to eat - or wakes up a lot in the night? Some parents may rush their children to a pediatrician, while for many Chinese, the answer will be a traditional Chinese massage therapist. This approach to massage, together with herbs and acupuncture, is a fundamental part of centuries-old traditional Chinese medicine. Nowadays, the therapy is enjoying a revival, with a growing allure for Chinese parents who seek an alternative to antibiotics for childhood ailments. "I always believed in TCM, but the effect of TCM massage on my child still surprised me," says Tang Dan, a young mother of a 2-year-old boy in Beijing.

"It was like magic."

In December, Tang took her son to a TCM hospital because of his lingering low appetite since birth, and a pediatrician there suggested a pediatric massage.

The boy received massage for about 10 minutes each day, in which a therapist pressed, pulled, rubbed and kneaded acupressure points on the boy's spine and nearby areas, as well as on the palms.

After seven days, Tang was thrilled at the change in the boy.

"For the first time since birth, he showed interest in food. Sometimes he would grasp food to eat," Tang says.

Previously, the family had taken the boy to a famous children's specialist hospital for a series of tests, but doctors there didn't reach a diagnosis and only prescribed nutrients, Tang says.

"Some people take it for granted that TCM massage is only good for adults, but TCM massage has been used on both children and adults for thousands of years," says Cui Xia, director of TCM pediatrics at the No 3 Hospital of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

"Actually, it has even better effects on children than on adults, because children are more sensitive to the therapy." That is because children have very soft and delicate skin, and also have acupressure points that adults don't have, Cui says, adding that this is why TCM massage therapists treat child patients differently from adults.

A 61-year-old man surnamed Zhu finally persuaded his daughter and son-in-law to let him take his 19-month-old granddaughter to have a TCM massage recently.

The little girl suffers from frequent coughs and colds, and her growth has slowed because of low appetite. He says Western medicine only offered nutrients and trace elements, so he recalled TCM massage, which he had a lot as a child.

"When I was young, everyone knew that if a child has indigestion, low appetite or bad sleep, the parents should take him to a TCM massage therapist," Zhu says.

Zheng Jun, director of pediatrics at Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, says children have immature digestive, respiratory and nervous systems, and TCM teaches that an imbalance in those systems is often the cause of common childhood ailments, such as constipation, cough and dermatitis - and certain combinations of massage techniques and acupressure points will help restore harmony within the children, and thus restore health.

Cui Xia, the TCM pediatric specialist, observes that as new and renewed awareness among the public grows, more people are seeking the benefits of this massage.

Zhu Yu, a Beijing resident and mother, has become a fan of the therapy. Her 2-year-old daughter Du Bingyue suffered from severe indigestion and low fever, but whenever Zhu gave her medicine, the little girl would cry and vomit.

Injections were also out of the question, because she would cry at the sight of a nurse.

Finally, a friend suggested that Zhu take Bingyue to a massage therapist.

The girl cried when the therapist started, but fell asleep a few minutes later.

The massage seemed to have little effect at first, but after seven days of regular massage - each day for about 20 minutes - the girl's health was restored.

"When children are ill, parents feel most anxious," Zhu says.

"You can never imagine how happy I was when she recovered through massage, while Western medicine was useless," says Zhu, who adds that the famous children's hospital she went to first relied too much on antibiotics and was also always crowded.

At the TCM hospital, there are relatively less patients, she says, and doctors are nice enough to teach her massage techniques and the principles of food therapy.

Learning from doctors and books, Zhu started massaging her daughter at home shortly after the girl began the therapy.

Zhu works mostly on the girl's palms, feet and back, almost every day.


Her daughter is 6 years old now, and years of TCM massage has improved her health.

She is taller and looks healthier than her peers, and is less vulnerable to mosquito-bite dermatitis than she used to be, Zhu says.

"Massage doesn't upset the child's stomach and has no side effects or potential long-term risk," Zhu says.

"Besides, it is comfortable, and my daughter enjoys it. Sometimes she will ask for it if I forget."

Tang Dan, the young mother in Beijing, also gives regular TCM pediatric massage to her boy at home to help his digestion and sleep. Her husband was once fiercely against the suggestion of going to a TCM hospital, but now he is supportive, Tang says.

While the treatment enjoys increasing acceptance among the public, many people are still skeptical, according to Cui Xia, the TCM specialist.

Cui says it is advisable to consult a specialist before people massage children themselves. TCM massage emphasizes individualized application of techniques and acupressure points, and sometimes it can be harmful - or ineffective - to massage children without expertise or instruction.

Reporter: Liu Zhihua

Video: Lin Hanqing & Li Qiushi(Intern)

Producer:Flora Yue

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