Lymphedema is scary, but so are many health conditions.  In fact, western medicine is great at calling something “incurable”, whereas eastern medicine has no problem attempting to correct these conditions.  I’ve used Chinese medicine in the past to deal with other conditions where western medicine had no answer.

That said, lymphedema is a tough opponent.  I tried a course of several acupuncture sessions with two different practitioners I used for other issues …with no result.

Thankfully, I kept digging.  There are some Chinese medicine people who have experimented and gotten results with lymphedema.  Turns out that it needs more help than just acupuncture.  In my case I was dealing with primary lymphedema that I had over 20 years.  Where acupuncture didn’t work, a combination of Chinese herbs plus Tui Na massage thankfully did.

While it took an investment of time and money, I finally got great results (you can read my story here).   While I haven’t cured or eliminated it, the combination of Chinese herbs and Tui Na have partially reversed by lymphedema.  So much so that many days I don’t even think about it.  I went from having to massage, elevate, dry brush and wear compression daily to none of the above.  I still wear compression when I fly and once in a while if I’m going to be sitting at a desk all day.    So for me that was a major, significant, over the top victory.

Most people are generally familiar with the idea of Chinese herbs, but Tui Na is not something most people have heard of.  I certainly had never heard of it before. So here’s more information on it in case you want to give it a try.

What is Tui Na?

Tui Na (pronounced “twee naw”) is a form of therapeutic acupressure massage that has been in use for centuries by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners.  The name means “pinch and pull”.  In case that makes you wonder…that’s right, this is no relaxing, soft massage.  Quite the contrary.  It’s a form of bodywork that can be aggressive at times.

Tui Na is said to manipulate the energy or Qi in the body and help break up places it is blocked. It involves the use of fingers and elbows on trigger points, in attempt to break up the scar tissue that may be blocking the flow of lymph.

How can it help for lymphedema?

I have primary lymphedema in my left leg (and also sometimes in my right leg too).  So for me, the TCM practitioner said I had extensive scar tissue in my back and hips that created blockages.  After each session, my legs would swell less.  I did this in conjunction with taking Chinese herbs. Together, after about four months of daily herbs and massage once every two weeks, my lymphedema dropped.  Then it continued to drop for the next few months, to where it was not very noticeable.

What is a Tui Na Massage like?

With Tui Na, you either go fully clothed, or you may be asked to change into some paper shorts and shirt.

If you’ve ever had Rolfing or deep tissue massage, this will be similar.  However the movements may seem unusual.

There’s not too far off with the “grasp and pull”.  They will work on your scalp, ears, neck and move on from there.  They go along your spine to break up blockages.  They seem to primarily work on your backside.

It can be uncomfortable and sometimes hurt—like Rolfing or other deep tissue massage–but you can always tell them to back off.  Be vocal if you need to.  It should not be that painful.  Just be aware and speak up.

I do get quite sore afterwards, which seems to get less after each treatment.  I have tried getting treatments more often, it didn’t work.  I need recovery time between each one so once a week max, or once every two weeks if you tend to get sore easily.

Other benefits

I have found that Tui Na also helps other long standing injuries.  Like Rolfing, it gets deep down and can actually help with chronic pain, where less assertive massage may not make a difference.   Just mention it to your practitioner and he/she can treat areas of pain while working to get your lymphatic system flowing better.

How expensive is Tui Na?

I have looked or tried it in the USA, New Zealand and Europe.  It seems to be very reasonably priced, far less than Rolfing or deep tissue massage.  That’s the good news.

Where can you get Tui Na Massage?

The bad news is it can be very hard to find.  I have had to search extensively to find it in places, even in Southern California where you can usually find any type of natural therapy you could imagine.  We’re working on adding a chinese medicine directory of people who treat lymphedema, so we’re trying to make this help easier to find.  Join our email list or check back soon!

Of course, talk to your doctor or health care provider before adding new strategies to your regimen.

Learn more about chinese medicine and lymphedema here.