Why I love Gua Sha

I was taught how to perform Gua Sha during my training as an acupuncturist. Taken from the extensive toolkit of traditional Chinese Medicine, it is one of several ancillary techniques that acupuncturists often use to enhance their treatments, alongside other, perhaps more well-known modalities such as cupping and moxibustion.

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So what is Gua Sha? It is a technique which involves scraping skin with a tool, with the intention of bringing red marks to the surface. My tool of choice is a Chinese soup spoon, although a jam jar lid will also do the job. Some practitioners prefer more elaborate tools made of jade or buffalo horn. Massage oil is used to lubricate the skin so the tool can glide across it.

Gua means to scrape and Sha means sand – referring to the sandy, granular spots which appear on the skin during treatment. These red marks are called petechiae and are not bruises, as the blood vessels remain intact. They can initially seem quite alarming, so it is important to warn patients before using the technique and to reassure them that the marks will fade within 2-4 days. Here is the back of one of my patients during her first Gua Sha treatment.

So what is the purpose of Gua Sha? The scraping action allows energy that is stuck in the body to escape and there is a real sense that something is being removed. This promotes the circulation of blood and qi (the energetic phenomena of Chinese Medicine that is thought to flow through the body) to the area, which in turn encourages healing. Gua Sha may initially feel ticklish or even uncomfortable. However, as the tightness releases, any discomfort eases and patients come to enjoy the feeling. Once they’ve experienced it, they often tend to ask for it every time.

Gua Sha can be used to both treat imbalances and to prevent further problems occurring in the future. Its main applications are in the areas of pain and general health and wellbeing. Common ailments that Gua Sha can be beneficial for include:

  • Aches, pain, injuries (especially effective for shoulder, neck and back problems),

  • Shin splints

  • Stress reduction

  • Headaches, migraines

  • Colds/flu/coughs

  • Promoting general health and wellbeing

I’ve also personally found in my practice that Gua Sha, alongside acupuncture, can be beneficial in reducing internal heat in menopausal women and counter-acting hot flushes.

There are certain conditions for which Gua Sha is not recommended, so it’s important for practitioners to know their patients’ medical history and to avoid or act with caution where appropriate.

So this is why I love using Gua Sha in my practice. It’s a simple, yet highly effective technique which patients come to love. It can easily be taught for home use, thus empowering patients to support themselves in between treatments.

Here are some comments from one of my patients, illustrating how she feels about Gua Sha:

“Caroline used Gua Sha alongside acupuncture for my menopause symptoms and two days after the treatment my hot flushes disappeared for about 10 days!  Subsequent treatments have revealed fewer areas of redness so progress is being made!  The scraping sensation is a little uncomfortable but doesn’t last long and afterwards you feel as if your back has had a good work out!  The marks subside after a couple of days and the benefits really make it worthwhile alongside the acupuncture.  Caroline’s dedicated, calm and gentle approach have significantly helped me cope with the ups and downs of the menopause”.

Caroline Challender