You can visit a gua sha practitioner or engage in self-care to enjoy the many healing benefits of this ancient practice. By simply increasing circulation and bringing blood to the surface of the body, you can fight inflammation, increase your immune system resilience, and treat a wide variety of diseases.
What Is Gua Sha?
Gua sha roughly translates into English as “scraping away fever.” The traditional Chinese practice of gua sha involves stroking the skin with a stiff instrument made of stone, jade, bone, or horn. Chinese people use these devices and techniques in homes and clinics to treat a variety of conditions.
Gua sha is similar to massage and acupressure, but it focuses directly on increasing blood flow beneath the surface of the skin. This heightened circulation can lead to a number of noticeable healing effects in the body.
In recent decades, Western physicians and patients have begun studying and using gua sha. Today’s researchers have found scientific explanations for gua sha’s anti-inflammatory and immune boosting effects, which may last for days and counteract a number of symptoms and diseases.
Researchers have shown that gua sha causes a dramatic increase in circulation in the soft tissues under the skin. Additionally, a Harvard study (conducted on mice) found that gua sha encourages cells to create heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1). A potent cytoprotectant and antioxidant, HO-1 also fights inflammation.
The benefits of gua sha seem to occur after blood is brought to the surface of the body during treatment. As the body reabsorbs this blood, it breaks down hemoglobin, triggering the production and release of HO-1 and its catalysates: bilirubin, biliverdin, and carbon monoxide. These potent chemicals fight infection, inflammation, and a number of other diseases.
What Are the Health Benefits of Gua Sha?
By boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation, gua sha practitioners help those in their care cope with various conditions, including:
- Pain and stiffness
- Fever and chill
- Neck and back pain
- Flu and bronchitis
- Migraine headaches
- Allergic inflammation
- Asthma, coughing, and wheezing
By promoting HO-1 production, gua sha also heals chronic and acute conditions involving internal organs. It can help organ transplant patients avoid rejecting their transplants and fight certain autoimmune disorders.
In 2011, researchers from Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital found even a single gua sha treatment had a positive effect on people who suffered from hepatitis B (which causes liver inflammation and degradation). Practitioners in China also use gua sha to treat hepatitis C and other viral infections.
What Can You Expect from Your First Gua Sha Session?
A typical gua sha session may only last 10 minutes. Your practitioner will start out by palpating (touching) your skin to see if there’s any “sha” (blood stagnation) present. Then, they will lubricate your skin with an oil or cream to minimize abrasion.
Be sure to tell your gua sha therapist about any painful areas you want to treat. Remember, they may not treat this part of your body; it may be better to treat an associated meridian (body energy channel).
To avoid the very small (but real) risk of transferring blood-borne pathogens between clients, many modern gua sha practitioners use small, one-use, disposable metal caps. Ask your practitioner about the measures they take to ensure a sanitary environment.
Some force is applied during gua sha sessions, and you should tell your practitioner if you experience too much discomfort. Red marks may appear on your skin after a session, but should go completely away within a few days. A gua sha session should leave you feeling invigorated and energized.
Using Gua Sha for Self-Care
If you want to practice gua sha at home, you need a device to scrape the skin.Though traditional tools may be made of a variety of materials, some suggest using metal jar lids with rounded lips. Avoid baby food caps and those with depressible “buttons.” Be sure to disinfect your lid after use (or simply discard it). You can also perform gua sha with a spoon or purchase a custom-made gua sha tool. Whatever you choose, be sure to lubricate your skin with an oil or balm before practicing gua sha.
People typically perform gua sha on the back, neck, and shoulders to treat cold and flu symptoms as well as upper back pain. As you proceed, you will notice the “sha,” red blotches that indicate blood flow near the surface of your body. These indicate the presence of “blood stagnation;” if none exists, the skin will simply turn pink.
After your treatment, you should feel a reduction in pain and other symptoms. As you engage in more treatments, you will likely see fewer sha blotches and feel your condition steadily improve.
- Boehm, T. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://breakingmuscle.com/health-medicine/scrape-away-the-pain-guasha
- Recommended sources for gua sha tools. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://guasha.com/gua-sha-tools/
- Nielsen, A. (2013) Gua sha: hands-on therapy for muscle and joint pain. Daily Health News. Retrieved from http://bottomlineinc.com/gua-sha-hands-on-therapy-for-muscle-and-joint-pain
- Nielsen, A. (2015) The science of gua sha. Retrieved from http://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/press-releases/2015/05/05/science-gua-sha
- Nielsen, A. (n.d.) Welcome to gua sha. Retrieved from http://guasha.com
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