Tui na, which translates as push and grasp, is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine that is used to help remove blockages and harmonise the beneficial flow of qi throughout the body. This therapy treats patients with a combination of massage, acupressure and body manipulations. It's often used to heal disturbances in muscle and bone alignments such as scoliosis.
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the backbone or spine. A normal, healthy spine should be straight. In scoliosis, the spine is curved either in one direction (C-shaped curvature) or in both directions (S-shaped curvature). This condition can be congenital (present at birth), idiopathic (unknown cause) or neuromuscular (caused by injuries or other factors).
According to Lau Yee-ching, a Chinese medicine practitioner with Hong Kong Baptist University's School of Chinese Medicine, most spinal deformity cases are idiopathic, particularly in children and adolescents. "Those who seldom exercise or have incorrect posture are more prone to the problem," says Lau.
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) affects 2 per cent to 3 per cent of children between the ages of 10 and 16 worldwide. A 2007/08 Health Department survey that screened more than 800,000 Hong Kong students as part of the Student Health Service Programme found that AIS affected up to 4.5 per cent. Scoliosis is about two times more common in girls than boys.
Depending on the severity of the curve, scoliosis is conventionally treated by observation, bracing or surgery. However, based on past clinical treatments using tui na, the clinical division of the School of Chinese Medicine formulated a course for 15 patients.
They were aged between eight and 23 years old and had scoliosis confirmed by measuring the lateral curvature of the spine on X-rays. The Cobb angle, used to measure the curvature of the spine in degrees, helps to quantify the magnitude of spinal deformity in scoliosis, diagnosed when the Cobb angle measures at least 10 degrees. Patients recruited had Cobb angles ranging from 13 to 54 degrees.
Between March and August 2012, the 15 patients received an average of 14 treatments. They were also instructed to hold a yoga position called the locust for a couple of seconds at a time, repeated 20 times, twice a day.
After the treatment period, a significant improvement was recorded in 12 patients - Cobb angle decreases of 6 to 11 degrees. A drop of 0 to 4 degrees was noted in the remaining three cases. Since treatment, the efficacy rate has been up to 80 per cent with no reported cases of worsening.
Early medical treatment is effective for young patients whose bones are still growing.
"The younger [the patients] affected by scoliosis, the more serious the deformity will be," says Lau.
"In addition to the negative impact on the patients' appearance, scoliosis poses other health problems, such as back pain and back muscle tension. In serious conditions, the heart and lung functions of the patients can also be affected.
"Tui na treatment helps to relax the muscles and joints, stimulate blood circulation, and relieve aches and pains. [Repeating the locust stretch] at home supplements the clinical treatment by strengthening patients' back muscles."
To prevent scoliosis, Lau suggests adopting a good posture, avoid carrying heavy schoolbags and toting bags on one shoulder. One should exercise more frequently. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, running and playing soccer help.
HKBU Chinese Medicine Speciality Clinic offers private consultations for the treatment of scoliosis. Tel: 3411 2968 or 3411 2988