Gua sha is an ancient healing practice that dates back to the Ming Dynasty in China. The technique involves applying a massage tool over the skin in strokes or brush-like movements. The tool is applied hard enough to create a scraping sensation but not so hard that it should create pain. Typically, massage oil or another product is applied before the massage tool is used to reduce friction and ease the movement of the tool.
How Does Gua Sha Work?
Traditionally, healers believed that gua sha helped move qi (or chi) throughout the body. Qi is the word for “life force” in Chinese. Today, we know that this practice helps promote the flow of the blood throughout areas of the body, so that traditional thought process was on to something.
Specifically, the scraping movement of the smooth massage tool over the skin stimulates tiny circulation activities in the soft tissue of and just below the skin. This is what helps with circulation.
Gua sha is usually applied to areas such as the back, arms, legs, buttocks and necks. In some cases, it might be applied in a careful, limited form to the face.
What Is Gua Sha Used For?
Gua sha might be used to treat acute and chronic pain. One theory is that the stimulation of blood circulation helps reduce inflammation. Because inflammation is often linked with pain, this may help reduce symptoms of pain in various areas of the body.
Gua sha may also be used to provide relief when someone is suffering from a condition linked to other types of inflammation. For example, it might be used for hepatitis B patients to reduce inflammation in the liver.
Because gua sha creates minor bruising, which is known as microtrauma, it can drive the body to respond in a way that also helps it heal from other injuries or break up scar tissue in muscles and other areas.
Some conditions and symptoms gua sha might be used for include:
- Migraines and other types of headaches
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Pain in the back, neck, shoulders, legs or other areas
- Swollen breasts that impede breastfeeding
- Symptoms associated with perimenopause or menopause
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Strain in the muscle tendons, including repetitive strain injuries
- Some lung conditions
Potential Side Effects of Gua Sha
The most common side effect of gua sha is minor bruising, which is, in fact, part of the point of the process. The bruises can last a few days or a few weeks, depending on the person’s overall health, skin tone and natural healing processes. In the first few days after a gua sha treatment, someone might feel light aches or soreness, and that can be treated by applying ice or taking ibuprofen or other over-the-counter pain relievers.
While gua sha is not meant to break the skin, there is a slight risk this could occur. If this occurs, the risk for infection is increased, but your provider should offer instructions on aftercare to help prevent such issues.
Gua sha is typically considered very safe, but there are some people who should not undergo this treatment. That includes people with conditions that impact their skin or veins or who have disorders that cause easy bleeding or injury. Open or healing wounds, tumors or infections are also reasons to avoid gua sha.
Will Gua Sha Treatment Hurt?
An experienced gua sha practitioner works with their patient to ensure a balance between comfort and effectiveness. Typically, the treatment begins with very light scraping and works up to firmer scraping until the patient indicates that it is too much or uncomfortable.
Gua sha treatment is not supposed to hurt. However, it is meant to create microtrauma under the skin and will leave some bruising. The “discomfort” that might be felt with this Chinese medicine treatment might be likened to the level of discomfort that might be experienced during a deep massage.
How Effective Is Gua Sha?
As with many traditional medical practices, gua sha is in need of more clinical studies. But that doesn’t mean it’s not effective, and the studies that have been conducted do point to positive outcomes. For example, one study looked at whether gua sha was effective in treating neck pain. It compared the outcomes of patients who received gua sha to the outcomes for those who did not. The results were that the group that received gua sha treatments reported significantly better outcomes.
Another study looked at gua sha’s benefit for perimenopausal women. It found that gua sha was both safe and effective in relieving the symptoms associated with perimenopause.
Recovery after Gua Sha Treatment
We proudly offer NJ gua sha treatments. Our expert treatment providers will offer specific recommendations for patients following gua sha treatment. In general, however, you may want to plan to rest for the day after the treatment. If you can’t take it easy for most of the day following the treatment, you may want to avoid strenuous activities that would promote even more blood flow as well as hot baths or showers that could increase bruising.
Bruising and soreness can be treated with ibuprofen. It’s a good idea to remain hydrated and avoid alcohol consumption for around 24 hours after a gua sha treatment.