Updated: Jan 28, 2019
Gua sha was one of the traditional healing technique widely used in Asia. Gua sha has two terms, Gua and Sha. 'Gua' in Chinese means to scrape or scratch, and 'sha' literally means sand or red, raised, millet sized rash. So sha technically describes the the presence of petechiae, red dots, or stagnation. The term of stagnation is often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for describing poor circulation that can cause pain, or inflammation. Therefore, "Gua sha" together literally means scraping sand.
This gua sha procedure traditionally has been done with a smooth scraping instrument that was made from stone or tortoise shell. Currently, GS instruments are made of plastic, stone, or stainless steel. The treatment consists of applying massage oil to skin, and scraping the skin using the tool over the painful area just enough to turn it red in order to address stagnation. Rubbing the skin’s surface is thought to help break up this stagnation, reduce inflammation and pain, and promote healing.
Benefits of Gua Sha
Gua Sha Is often used to treat chronic musculoskeletal pain. You may wonder how this works. According to a study done in 2007 (Nielsen, A. (2009). Gua sha research and the language of integrative medicine. Journal Of Bodywork And Movement Therapies, 13(1), 63–72), Gua sha increases 400% of surface microcirculation local to a treated area and with pain-relieving biomechanism, and it also increases the circulation in local and distal myalgia. Another study published in journal of American Acupuncturist of 2014 explains that Gua sha creates an immune response in the body by degranulating mast cells. The degranulation of mast cells causes a release of histamines. Histamines cause vasodilation of capillaries and increase the permeability of the capillaries to white blood cells. And antibodies rush to the site along with endorphins and anti-inflammatory agents. This increase the blood flow to the injured area and accelerate the healing process.
Gua sha is a safe modality. Patients with fear of needles may consider this modality to try. It’s not supposed to be painful, but the procedure may change the appearance of your skin such as redness or minor bruising. But this will be disappeared within 1 to 3 days depending on how severe a case is and how strongly the treatment has been applied. Gua Sha is a great modality to help reliving pain, which is almost immediate in some cases.
Jin H. Kim, L.Ac., MSTOM
Westchester Health Acupuncture
332 Route 100, Floor 2
Somers, NY 10589