What is Gua Sha?
Gua Sha (pronounced “gwa shah,”) refers to an East Asian healing technique. To “Gua” means to “scrape or rub”. “Sha” on the other hand, is a ‘reddish, elevated, millet-like skin rash’ (aka petechiae). Sha describes the blood stasis in the subcutaneous tissue before and after it is raised as petechiae. Gua Sha is one technique that intentionally raises the Sha rash or petechiae.
When is Gua Sha best used?
Gua Sha is appropriately used whenever a patient has pain that is associated with either acute or chronic pain/disorder. Most patients complain of aching pain, tenderness or a tight, knotting pain in their muscles.
With palpation, sha reveals with normal finger pressure on a patient’s skin causes blanching that is slow to disappear/fade away. On top of helping to resolve muscle and body pain, gua sha is used to treat and prevent:
- common cold
- chronic conditions that is painful
- congestion of qi and/or blood
- and more
Gua Sha is effective to:
- Reduce fever (the technique was used to treat cholera previously)
- Treat fatigue that is caused by exposure to heat (often used to treat heat-stroke)
- Treat fatigue that is caused by exposure to cold
- Cough and dyspnea: bronchitis, asthma, emphysema.
- Treat muscle and tendon injuries and pain
- Push sluggish circulation, fibromyalgia.
- Treat headaches
- Treat sunstrokes / heat syncope and nausea.
- Treat stiffness, pain, immobility.
- Treat digestive problems and disorders.
- Treat urinary, gynecological disorders.
- To assist with reactions to food poisoning.
Where is Gua Sha applied on my body?
Sha is applied primarily the body’s surface that is rich with Yang – the back, neck, shoulders, buttocks, and limbs. At the discretion of the TCM Physician, Gua Sha may be applied at the chest and abdomen.
How is Gua Sha done?
To apply gua sha, the area first needs to be lubricated with oil to prevent friction burn and help with the scraping process. If you do not have gua sha oil, you can also use White Flower oil or any other oil.
We will avoid moles, cuts or unhealed areas by covering them. The gua sha tool will be held at a 30 degrees angle to the skin, and the smooth edge will touch your skin. You skin will then be rubbed with a round-shaped instrument with downward strokes.
We will start stroking with one area until we have raised the petechiae on that surface is sufficiently raised. If there is no blood stasis the petechiae will not form and the skin will only turn pink.
Gua Sha stroke areas
The targeted skin is rubbed with gua sha strokes in downward strokes using a consistent, moderate pressure. The patient should not feel any pain, but they may feel slight superficial discomfort on the skin. One area is stroked at a time, until the petechia of the surface is completely raised and all the sha is up, where stroking no longer increases the number of dots or changes in color. Only then we move onto the next area.
The sha petechiae usually fade between 2-4 days. If it takes longer time to fade, it may indicate a more serious problem of deficiency that may require additional treatments with combination of acupuncture or acupressure in specific areas.
Gua sha treatments can be done up to three times a week, and is most effective and sustainable when used as a weekly treatment for chronic conditions.
Does the Sha Indicate Anything?
The color of the sha is used for both diagnostic and prognostication purposes.
- Very light, it may indicate a possibility of blood deficiency
- Fresh red, it shows recent penetration
- Dark purple or black, the blood stasis is long-standing
- Brown, it may be that one’s blood is dry
- Dark red, it indicates heat and heatiness
What are the benefits of Gua Sha?
Most of the time, patients will feel an almost immediate shift in their conditions, particularly in their previous experience of pain or decreased mobility.
Gua Sha moves congested/blocked Qi and blood, and releases the Exterior in forms of mimicking processes such as perspiration and wastes fluids movement. In a modern biomedical perspective, it means to move fluids that contains metabolic wastes that blocks and congests the surface tissues and muscles.
Gua Sha promotes circulations and causes the normalization of metabolic processes. It is a valuable treatment for both external and internal pains, and helps to resolve both acute and chronic problems.
But Is Gua Sha Safe?
Gua Sha is a completely safe medical technique, but it is a serious medicine – knowing when to use it and what to expect from treatment is as important as good technique.
People who suffer and live in chronic pain often unintentionally build strong emotional defenses to cope with the pain. Many live their lives in complete helplessness and hopelessness. Often, having their pain “touched” and relieved can be quite unnerving and unsettling, even shocking.
After gua sha, the patient needs to moderate their activities, even their rest. Patients are advised to avoid drugs, alcohol, sex, feasting, hard labor (including working out) and the need to fast for the rest of the day. In other words, patient needs to mellow and rest.