What is Gua Sha?

Gua sha is a form of manual therapy that is often used in conjunction with acupuncture and massage therapy to augment the effects of the treatments, but it can also be used on its own as an effective form of therapy to decrease pain, increase immunity, and balance hormones.

Posted June 24, 2019

Gua sha is one of the many therapies used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in which a smooth object is repeatedly scraped against the skin in order to increase blood circulation and release stagnant blood as well as toxins. Where the therapy is applied on the body depends on that condition is being treated.

Traditionally, soup spoons or coins have been used, but other objects such as a smooth jade tools are commonly used in clinics today. This healing technique is centuries old, but is now being researched to better understand just how it works, as well as its broad applications.

What is Gua Sha used for?

Gua sha is best known for relief of acute or chronic pains such as neck pain, back pain, carpal tunnel, or even muscle soreness and recovery from sports injuries. New studies have shown that the incorporation of gua sha into traditional Western therapies significantly improves symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, plantar fasciitis, and perimenopausal syndrome.

“Evidence support[s] the hypothesis that Gua Sha therapy effectively improved the treatment efficacy in patients with perimenopausal syndrome.” (Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2018 May)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, one of the most important uses of gua sha is to boost immunity. Used at the right time, gua sha can fight common illnesses like the cold, flu, and upper respiratory infections.

How does Gua Sha work?

In TCM, gua sha is understood to clear the body of toxins through the scraping action which promotes the movement of qi and blood which in turn releases toxins that would otherwise be stagnant in the body. In this sense, gua sha is an excellent preventative measure because it clears the body of toxins and leaves more vital qi available to fight off external infections.

Similarly, gua sha works to reduce pain in the body by increasing the flow of qi and blood to areas of the body that are painful to aide in healing and recovery.

In Western medicine, recent medical studies have shown that one of the ways that gua sha works is via the light bruising that is caused by the scraping action. As the body re-absorbs and heals the from the bruising, the body upregulates the production of heme oxygenase-1 proteins, which are proteins that have anti-inflammatory and immune protective effects (CCAOM, 2015, p. 52).

In addition, like deep tissue massages and other forms of manual therapy that can manipulate the soft tissue and lymphatic system, depending on which part of the body gua sha is applied it can have many of the same therapeutic effects such as less muscle soreness, increased flexibility, and reduced pain.

As an old saying goes, “where there is no free flow, there is pain; where there is pain, there is no free flow.” Gua sha is an excellent modality to promote the free flow of qi and blood in the body.

What to expect after a Gua Sha treatment

Gua sha can cause temporary light to medium red bruising on the skin where the therapy was applied. These marks are called “sha” and are part of the therapeutic effects of the treatment. These bruises can last up to 3 to 4 days and should not be painful, but may be tender and sensitive to the touch.

Depending on where the therapy is applied and at what strength, your muscles and soft tissue may feel looser, akin to a deep tissue massage, which can increase your range of motion. As with any manual therapies, always drink plenty of water after a treatment to properly aide your body in recovery.

Let your body flow free for less pain!


References
  • Nielsen, Arya Ph.D. What is Gua Sha. Accessed on 5/29/2019. http://guasha.com/about/what-is-gua-sha/
  • CCAOM Clean Needle Tech. Man. 7th edition, 2015. Council of Colleges of Acupuncture & Oriental Med.

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