Gua Sha – for pain, musclar tension, colds and more

Ancient chinese remedy for modern day issues

By Cynthia Hewett LAc, Certified Herbalist

When we think about Chinese medicine, we usually think about acupuncture needles and herbs. Another wonderful tool and healing technique used in Chinese medicine is Gua Sha.
Gua Sha is performed by swiftly rubbing (called ‘Gua’ in Chinese medicine) the surface of lubricated skin with a round-edged, comb-like instrument in downward strokes. This action intentionally raises a small temporary rash (known in Chinese as ‘Sha,’ also known as petechiae/rash in Western terms) in the treated area.  You will feel a rubbing and slight burning sensation, but it is not painful.
In Chinese medicine, pain and disease are said to be caused by stagnation or congestion of qi and blood.  Gua Sha increases the movement of qi and blood and allows the body to restore its natural functioning.
What Conditions Can Gua Sha Help?
Gua Sha can help release unwanted neck and shoulder tension that comes with computer work and the busy-ness of our day (like running around and commuting). It is also prescribed for chronic muscle tightness from overuse or injury. It can be effectively used in the treatment of colds and coughs to relieve congestion and help increase the body’s immune response.
How Does Gua Sha Do This?
The secret of gua sha lies in how this treatment encourages the vigorous movement of blood to the surface of the body. When blood moves and circulation is enhanced, the body can help heal the area that needs to be healed. This is how gua sha helps the body’s own healing process.
Is there Scientific Research About Gua Sha?
In the last decade, Western studies have started to investigate how Gua Sha works. A study from 2007 confirms that Gua Sha increases the surface circulation of blood by 400% and that increased surface circulation continued at a significant level for 25 minutes following treatment. Each individual experienced a subjective decrease or complete resolution of pain [1]. A 2009 study showed that as enzymes are released to breakdown the petechiae (small broken blood vessels under the skin created by the Gua Sha treatment), an anti-inflammatory effect is created [2]. This helps explain why Gua Sha is useful in the treatment of colds and even allergy symptoms.
Other studies have looked at Gua Sha in the treatment of migraine [3], neck and lower back pain [4], chronic neck pain [5], and hepatitis [6].  Current studies have been small but warrant further investigation especially in understanding Gua Sha’s effects on the body’s immune process.
Gua Sha Conclusion
Gua Sha is a safe, non-invasive treatment  that is usually applied to the back of the body or the limbs. The rash usually fades in 2-4 days and patients are advised to relax the day of treatment, avoiding working out, fasting or large meals and alcohol, to allow the body to repair.
1. Nielsen,  A., Knoblauch, N., Dobos,G., Michalsen, A., Kaptchuk, T. (2007),The Effect of Gua Sha Treatment on the Microcirculation of Surface Tissue: A Pilot Study in Healthy Subjects. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 3:  456-466. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2007.06.001)
2. Kwong KK, Kloetzer L, Wong KK, Ren JQ, Kuo B, Jiang Y, Chen YI, Chan ST, Young GS, Wong ST. (2009), Bioluminescence imaging of heme oxygenase-1 upregulation in the Gua Sha procedure.  J Vis Exp. 2009 (30): 1385.  doi: 10.3791/1385.
3. Schwickert  ME, Saha FJ, Braun M, Dobos GJ. Gua Sha for migraine in inpatient withdrawal therapy of headache due to medication overuse. Forsch Komplementmed. 2007 Oct14(5):297-300. doi:10.1159
4. Lauche R, Wübbeling K, Lüdtke R, Cramer H, Choi KE, Rampp T, Michalsen A, Langhorst J, Dobos GJ. Randomized controlled pilot study: pain intensity and pressure pain thresholds in patients with neck and low back pain before and after traditional East Asian “gua sha” therapy. Am. J. Chin. Med. 40, 905 (2012). DOI: 10.1142/S0192415X1250067X/000107731.
5. Braun, M., Schwickert, M., Nielsen, A., Brunnhuber, S., Dobos, G., Musial, F., Lüdtke, R. and Michalsen, A. (2011), Effectiveness of Traditional Chinese “Gua Sha” Therapy in Patients with Chronic Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pain Medicine, 12: 362–369. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01053.x
6. Chan ST, Yuen JW, Gohel MD, Chung CP, Wong HC, Kwong KK,  (2011) Guasha-induced hepatoprotection in chronic active hepatitis B: A case study. Clinica Chimica Acta, Volume 412, Issues 17–18, 17 August 2011, Pages 1686-1688. doi:10.1016/j.cca.2011.05.009

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