Therapeutic massage hitting the spot for kids

Ms Neo, Eu Yan Sang's TCM physician, showing how tuina is administered to a young patient. TCM clinics have noticed a slow but steady rise in the number of young customers over the past three or four years.
Ms Neo, Eu Yan Sang's TCM physician, showing how tuina is administered to a young patient. TCM clinics have noticed a slow but steady rise in the number of young customers over the past three or four years.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

More parents opting for this non-invasive treatment for their kids instead of Western medication, say TCM clinics

Small children are apt to object to swallowing yucky-tasting medicine and they most definitely protest against needles, but parents are finding there is a form of treatment they do not seem to mind as much.

Tuina, or Chinese therapeutic massage, is non-invasive and does not have to hurt.

Believing it can treat a range of illnesses and boost their children's well-being, parents are taking to the paediatric version in droves.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinics, which offer tuina alongside acupuncture and herbal treatments, have noticed a slow but steady rise in the number of young customers over the past three or four years.

It is not just for when they are sick, as parents believe xiao er tuina can strengthen a healthy child's immune system and general well-being. Some use tuina to address colic (uncontrollable crying for no apparent reason), frequent bed-wetting or when the child is not growing well, never mind that there is no proven benefit to fall back on.

Since 2012, TCM chain Eu Yan Sang International has seen a "fourfold rise" in the number of takers for paediatric tuina who are aged below 12, said a spokesman.

"Approximately 85 per cent of them are returning clients," he said.

Yu Guo Chinese Physician , which started in 1986 and claims to be the biggest private paediatric tuina centre here, has had to hire more TCM physicians and now has a team of more than 10, said physician Koh Tin Yock. Further expansion has not been ruled out.

Other clinics, such as Herbal-Basic TCM clinic and Ma Kuang Healthcare group, also reported rising demand for paediatric tuina.

New TCM clinics and services have also emerged in recent years, adding to the supply pool.

Urbanrehab, which offers physiotherapy, hand therapy and other services, started offering TCM treatments, including paediatric tuina, when its TCM physician Lim Xiang Jun came on board in 2014.

Parents often opt for paediatric tuina for infants and very young children as it is a non-invasive method, say TCM physicians.

"The parents are afraid that their young child may be taking too much medication or it could be the child refusing medication," said TCM physician Neo Min Jun of the Eu Yan Sang TCM clinics in Chinatown and Simei.

Pricing manager Chua Sing Ling, 36, is one such parent.

She tries to take her two sons, aged five months and three years, for paediatric tuina twice a month to keep them in good health.

Her second son received tuina therapy when he was less than a month old as he had jaundice, colic and a cough - and she did not want to give him too much oral medication at that age.

She believes the tuina worked, though she has no proof.

TCM physicians say paediatric tuina works best on children under six years old, when the energy or qi system of the child is still developing.

"By the time he is six, the system will be more matured and different treatment protocols will be required to access the qi system," said Urbanrehab's Mr Lim.

Paediatric tuina uses the same principles as acupuncture, in which fine needles are inserted at specific points in the body to help unblock energy channels. But in tuina, gentle massage instead of needles is used to activate the various points.

In TCM, the body is seen as having invisible energy channels known as meridians, through which qi or vital energy circulates. Illness or pain occurs when the flow is disrupted.

TCM espouses the belief that paediatric massage improves overall health by strengthening a child's immune system. The child is less lethargic and has a better appetite. In turn, this promotes growth in children, said physician Neo.

"We believe that when there is pain or illness, it is because the qi flow in a certain part of the body is not good, thus allowing pathogens to get into the body," she said.

"For example, if a child has a cough, tuina would help to improve the qi flow in his lungs."

She said that in some children, there may be results after just one session - the child is calmer, can eat better and sleep better.

Many studies have been done in China on the benefits of paediatric tuina, she said, but these are not rigorous scientific studies.Those with serious illnesses, like a high fever of, say, 40 deg C, should first head to a Western doctor, she added.

Ms Neo, who has a double degree in biomedical sciences and TCM, said paediatric tuina can help with general issues that affect a child's health but on which Western medication may not be effective. For example, TCM believes tuina can help with bladder control and teeth grinding at night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Therapeutic massage hitting the spot for kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe