• Alexis Hileman L.Ac.

Gua Sha Therapy Explained

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

What is gua sha?

Gua sha is a healing technique of traditional East Asian medicine, which will sometimes be referred to as scraping, coining, or spooning. Gua sha is explained as instrument-assisted unidirectional press-stroking of a lubricated area of the body surface to intentionally create transitory therapeutic petechiae called ‘sha’ representing extravasation of blood in the subcutis.

During gua sha, your Eastern medicine acupuncturist will scrape your skin with short or long strokes to stimulate microcirculation of the soft tissue.

What does that mean? Gua sha is a natural, alternative therapy that involves scraping your skin with a gua sha tool to improve your body's circulation. In 2015, Harper's Bazaar wrote an article entitled "The Shockingly Grotesque, Yet Incredible Results of Gua Sha Massage", which goes into a bit more description of the look and feel of the technique.

Gua sha process

During gua sha, your Eastern medicine acupuncturist will scrape your skin with short or long strokes to stimulate micro-circulation of the soft tissue. This is known to increase blood flow. The process uses a specific tool known as a gua massage tool, which is a smooth-edged instrument designed for gua sha. Massage oil will be applied to your skin, and then the tool is used to repeatedly scrape your skin in a downward motion.

Where is it applied?

Gua sha is usually performed on a person’s back, buttocks, legs, arms and neck area. You can even request a more gentle version of this technique to be used on your face as an eastern medicine facial technique. Your acupuncturist may apply mild pressure, and gradually increase the intensity to determine where your threshold is.

Known Benefits of Gua Sha

Gua sha may reduce inflammation so you'll see it being used to treat ailments that cause chronic pain. These could be things such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, as well as those that trigger muscle and joint pain. Research suggests that gua sha may reduce chronic liver inflammation.

Some people also look to gua sha for the following ailments.

Migraine headaches

If you suffer from migraines, gua sha may help. Though the disclaimer that more research is always needed applies when it comes to eastern medicine techniques, there are many documented cases of life-long migraine suffers finding relief in eastern medicine techniques such as gua sha and acupuncture.

Neck pain

Gua sha technique may also prove to be effective for those suffering from chronic neck pain. To determine the effectiveness of this therapy, 48 study participants were split into two groups in which one group was given gua sha and the other used a thermal heating pad to treat neck pain. You can read about the results and learn more by clicking the link above.

Tourette syndrome

Those that suffer from Tourette syndrome experience involuntary movements such as facial tics, throat clearing, and vocal outbursts. According to a case study, gua sha combined with other therapies may have helped to reduce symptoms of Tourette syndrome in the study participant.

Breast engorgement

This is a condition that can be experienced by breastfeeding women that happens when the breasts overfill with milk. It usually occurs in the first weeks of breastfeeding or if the mother is away from the infant. Breasts can become swollen and painful, making it difficult for babies to latch.

Though usually a temporary condition, women receiving gua sha beginning the second day after giving birth had fewer reports of engorgement, breast fullness, and discomfort.

Gua Sha Side Effects

Gua sha is a natural healing remedy so it is considered very safe. It is not supposed to be painful, but the procedure may cause changes in your skin. Because it involves rubbing or scraping the skin with a massage tool, tiny blood vessels known as capillaries near the surface of your skin can burst. When this happens you may experience bruising or minor bleeding, which normally disappears within a few days.

You of course, should consult with your Eastern medicine acupuncturist before having gua sha done on your body. Everyone's situation will differ, depending on what medications you may be on, if you've had surgery recently or have other conditions that may interact with gua sha.


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