Here is a comprehensive article which will answer most of your questions about Chinese Massage.
Chinese massage, sometimes known as Oriental Massage, though perhaps increasingly commonly known by the proper name, tui na, is a form of acupressure. As the name would suggest, acupressure is very similar to acupuncture in philosophy. In theories surrounding acupuncture it is thought that there are invisible passageways called meridians that run throughout the body and are the channels through which a vital energy called qi (pronounced "kee" or "chee") flow through. Diseases and disorders are thought to be a result of disruptions in the flow of this qi through the meridians. Along these meridians are a series of points known as acupoints through which it is thought that these disruptions can be rectified through any number of means. Acupuncture proper involves the stimulation of the acupoints through the penetration of the skin by very thin needles of various lengths. Moxibustion attempts to stimulate the acupoints through the burning of specific Chinese herbs. Alternately, sonopuncture uses a form of stimulation through sound waves and electroacupuncture, which may or may not include needles, looks to stimulate the acupuncture points through the administration of small electric charges.
Acupressure, also known as oriental massage as practiced in Oriental Massage Parlors, similarly looks to restore the body's lost balance through manipulation with the fingers of the acupoints. In tui na, the individual practitioner uses a series of movements including brushing kneading, rolling, pressing and rubbing areas between joints that are known in the philosophy of tui na as the eight gates. It is thought that the motions applied allow for the movement of the energy, or qui, through the meridians, restoring the lost internal balance. It is also thought that the practitioner of tui na will then use a series of motion, traction and massage of the acupressure points in an effort to treat both chronic and acute musculoskeletal conditions, in particular, as well as more general conditions that may or may not be musculoskeletal in origin.
History Tui na massage has been used in China for more than two thousand years. There have been massage techniques that have dated back to the Shang Dynasty as well as a number of very old inscriptions that have suggested that external medicine such as massage has been very widely used. It is thought that by 700 AD Chinese massage had begun to be studied as a separate branch of learning in the ImperialMedicalCollege in what is present day China. As the discipline progressed there began to be a number of forms of tui na that each sought to correct different conditions, symptoms or diseases using somewhat differing practices and methodologies, but all being related as forms of external medicine.
How Massage Therapy Works At this point it is still unclear exactly how massage therapy is effective, if indeed it is fully effective. It is understood that when pressure is applied to muscles that changes do occur although it to this day remains unclear just what those changes are. In addition, it has been readily observed that massage therapy does indeed reduce stress and that this stress reducing capacity may alleviate other diseases that are aggravated by stress. According to the National Institutes of Health's National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the following six theories have been proposed with regard to massage therapy. First, that the stimulation may in some way help to block pain signals that make their way to the brain, which is known as the "gate control theory" of pain reduction. Second, that the massage may cause relaxation, a shift to what is known as the parasympathetic nervous system away from the sympathetic nervous system, the latter being the part of the nervous system that activates the bodies stress responses. Third, it is thought that massage may release chemicals in the body, such as serotonin or endorphins. The fourth theories is that there may be beneficial mechanical changes in the body, the example given being that the formation of scar-like tissue (known as fibrosis) could be prevented, or that the flow of lymph may in some way be increased, which would be positive as lymph carries cells that are used by the body to fight diseases. The fifth theory is that massage may simply improve one's sleep, which can help reduce pain and promotes healing.
The final theory noted by the National Institutes of Health's National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is that there may be some form of health benefit simply deriving from the interaction that exists between a therapist and his or her patient. In addition, the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is sponsoring a number of research initiatives. These include looking at how massage and the frequency of massage effects health individuals, the long term benefits of massage on chronic neck pain versus conventional treatments, massage as a means of improving quality of life in cancer patients as a form of palliative care, and finally whether or not massage helps reduce the painful symptoms found in those suffering from sickle cell anemia.
Present Day Relevance That Chinese massage, or tui na, has a long and illustrious history is certain. Where it becomes of even more interest to a Western audience is in conjunction with some of the other developments in external medicine that have developed in the past century and a half. These include the forms of chiropractors that are currently being trained and practicing in North America. It is important to note that although this form of external medicine has gained a place in the treatment regimens for many Americans, it to this day still is not entirely understood. Generally the attractiveness of treatment options that involve different forms of massage has been the positive reaction from individuals who choose this treatment option. As more research goes into understanding just how massage in general and the types of massage found in Traditional Chinese Medicine function, it will only be to the benefit of patients and practitioners alike to be part of the discovery of just how this ancient form of external medicine has helped so many people and how it will continue to do so in the future.