Gua sha: Scraping away layers of pain with this ancient healing tool


Last Updated June 13th, 2021

How does it work?

This is a traditional Chinese therapy that involves scraping the skin with the use of a tool to release stagnant energy.  The therapy has been practiced for thousands of years but has gained popularity recently.  The term gua sha can be translated as “to scrape wind.”  During the 5th and 7th century, this therapy was transferred from China to Vietnam and is now very popular in Vietnam.

The tools involved during this therapy include a crystal stone with rounded edges.  This tool is used to make repetitive motions on the skin in one direction.  This causes the capillaries to bleed and promote blood flow.  The main intention of the therapy is to release the stagnant energy at a particular spot.  This stagnant energy called chi causes inflammation.  Releasing this energy using a tool can provide relief from several chronic pains.

This technique is mainly used to treat pain in areas such as the neck, back, buttocks, arms, and legs.  It is also used on the face but is considerably gentle compared to other parts of the body.

What are the tools used to perform gua sha?

A spoon or a coin is the traditional tool used to perform this therapy.  The modern-day therapists use a hand-held tool with round edges to avoid skin damage.  The tool is generally a bit heavy, which allows the therapist to apply pressure during the therapy.  Therapists practicing this method from their ancestral period generally use tools that have some energy which can support healing.  Some of the energy producing materials include rose quartz, bian stone, as well as jade.  A medical grade stainless steel is used when the therapy is undergone in a clinic.  The therapist will also use some oil to moisturize the area.  This will allow the therapist to use the tool smoothly across the skin.  The tool is pressed against the skin and moved along one direction to release the stagnant energy.

How to perform gua sha?

To perform this therapy, you would first need a tool, which is usually a crystal stone but can also include wood, plastic, stainless steel, etc.  Stones, spoon, or coins were the tools used during the olden days, but in the modern day, tools are more elaborate and also have handles.

  • Locating the area of pain is important. The area can involve any part of the body excluding the joints.  It is highly advised to avoid using this therapy for joints.  You are advised to rub the area with your finger and locate the area of stiffness and pain.
  • Moisten the area with the use of coconut oil or olive oil. You may even use a therapeutic balm on this area.
  • It is now time for the scrapping process. Rub the tool in one direction spanning an area of about 2 to 3 inches.  Repeat this process for 6 to 8 times on a particular spot.  Continue the same procedure for the next spot.
  • The continuous movement of the tool on a particular spot creates red sores. This is due to the capillaries breaking and leading to increased blood flow.  Do not be alarmed, as this is a regular phenomenon and will subside in a few days.
  • You can ask for assistance from your family to perform the therapy on your back, as you will not be able to perform it appropriately.
  • The therapy would generally last around 10 minutes. After the therapy session, drink a glass of water and relax.  Avoid any strenuous activities such as driving or operating machinery.
  • Finally, clean the tool appropriately and sterilize it so as to avoid infections caused by pathogens.

Health benefits of gua sha

Reduces liver inflammation associated with hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a life-threatening infection of the liver.  The symptoms generally include yellow tanning of the skin, discolored urine, and inflammation of the liver, as well as liver scarring. Studies were conducted to find the effectiveness of gua sha on a subject suffering from liver inflammation due to elevated liver enzymes.  The subject underwent the therapy and after 48 hours, it was found that the levels of liver enzymes had decreased substantially, which indicates that reduction in liver inflammation.  It was therefore determined that this therapy was useful in reducing the liver inflammation associated with hepatitis B.  Extended studies have been undertaken to find more substantial evidence.

Relieves migraine headaches

It is a headache that is caused due to the sensitivity of light, sound, or smell.  People suffering from chronic migraine headaches have a hard time to control the symptoms since they do not respond to over-the-counter medications.  A 14-day period of gua sha therapy was given to a 72-year-old woman having chronic migraine headaches.  The subject experienced significant relief of her headaches that indicates the effectiveness of therapy to relieve migraine headaches.  More research is needed to further substantiate the benefits of this therapy.

Limits breast engorgement

This is a common problem faced by many women during breastfeeding.  This condition may arise when the breasts are filled with milk.  This may occur if the mother is not able to feed the baby due to several factors such as when feeling ill or while on medications.  During these situations, the mother does not breastfeed and this leads to excess milk accumulation in the breasts known as breast engorgement.  This condition is generally temporary but can cause severe pain.

According to a study, breastfeeding women were given gua sha therapy after the initiation of breastfeeding up until leaving the hospital.  It was determined that when the women were followed after several weeks, there were hardly any reports of breast engorgement or discomfort.  They were also finding it easier to breastfeed the infants after undergoing therapy.

Relieves chronic neck pain and back pain

One of the main benefits of gua sha therapy is to relieve pain associated with neck and back.  People suffering from chronic back and neck pain usually take pain relievers to reduce the pain, but usually, end up having side effects of the medication.  Undergoing this therapy over the affected area can substantially reduce the pain levels as well as limit the occurrence of pain in the future.

In one of the studies, 48 participants with chronic back and neck pain were divided into two groups.  One group was subjected to undergo the therapy and another group was subjected to undergo thermal heating.  It was found that people who underwent gua sha therapy reported less pain as compared to the other group who received thermal heating.

Helps with Tourette syndrome

It is a syndrome involving the nervous system.  This generally affects children with symptoms that include tics such as repetitive uncontrolled movements with sounds.  For example, it may include repetitive blinking and throat clearing uncontrollably.  A study was conducted on a patient suffering from Tourette syndrome.  The patient was subjected to treatment with herbs, acupuncture, and gua sha therapy.  After long-term treatment with this combination, it was found that the patient had symptoms that were improved by 70%.  Further studies are being conducted to know the effectiveness of this therapy.

Reduces symptoms of the perimenopausal syndrome

This is a phase just before the onset of menopause.  During this phase, estrogen production from the ovaries gradually reduces.  This phase may last up to the onset of menopause where the estrogen production completely ceases.  Perimenopause phase may lead to certain symptoms such as irregular periods, insomnia, anxiety, hot flashes, as well as fatigue.  Studies have claimed that undergoing therapy can reduce the symptoms of menopause.

Several studies have found that conventional therapy in conjunction with gua sha treatments at least once a week for eight weeks can substantially reduce the perimenopausal symptoms. Several symptoms including headache, anxiety, hot flashes, and fatigue are reduced after a 15-minute gua sha therapy.

Promotes healthy skin

One of the most noticeable advantages of this therapy is when it is used on the face.  The therapy involving the face is by far very gentle as compared to other parts of the body.  The vigorous motion of the tool that causes intense friction is avoided when performing it on the facial skin.  A gentle massage involving gentle glide and slight pull method is used when doing it on the face.  This stimulates the chi that is the confined energy and releases it to provide a soothing effect.  The gentle motion moves the lymph which carries the toxins away from the skin.  This provides a healthy and beautiful skin free of acne, rosacea, and dryness.

Side effects of gua sha

This therapy is considered to be safe and healthy with minimal to no associated side effects.  The therapy involves scraping the skin, which may cause bruising of the skin.  The bruising is the result of the breaking of capillaries during the scrapping process.  The bruising is generally minimal and would disappear with minimal to no treatment rendered.  The bruising may lead to infections caused by pathogens.

It is important to protect these bruises from not getting infected.  People who have certain medical conditions are not advised to undergo this therapy and include people suffering from easy bruising, deep vein thrombosis, implanted with a pacemaker or internal defibrillator, people suffering from tumors or infections, as well as people who are on anticoagulants.

Final Thoughts

Gua sha is considered to be an alternative therapy when regular therapy is not providing relief.  You may be surprised to see bruised skin pictures when you try to Google gua sha, but the reality is completely different than what you actually see in the pictures.  This therapy is considered to be one of the safest and healthiest alternatives for relieving chronic pain conditions.  The side effects associated with this therapy is minimal and negligible and the benefits easily outweigh the risks associated with this therapy.  Undergoing this therapy by a therapist is advised to avoid any complications such as bruising as well as increase the effectiveness of the treatment.


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