Gua sha is a natural treatment from traditional Chinese medicine that means “to scrape away illness.” Doctors of Chinese medicine, such as acupuncturists, will use gua sha, along with acupuncture and other healing techniques, to help patients.
In ancient times, coins and even bone were used to perform the scraping associated with gua sha. Nowadays, gua sha usually is done with a specially designed handheld tool made from stones like jade and rose quartz.
“Gua sha is also used at home as a folk healing method,” says Tsao-Lin Moy, a licensed acupuncturist and founder of Integrative Healing Arts in New York. “It’s not uncommon for Asian families to pass down how to gua sha for self-treatment or to family members.”
Gua sha has recently received attention thanks to social media. Most of these videos focus on facial gua sha to improve your appearance.
The Graston technique, used in physical therapy, is actually derived from gua sha. With Graston, a physical therapist will use a stainless steel instrument to identify and gently massage constricted muscle areas around an injury to relax the muscle and promote soft tissue healing.
What Happens During Gua Sha
A gua sha session takes about 5 to 15 minutes. During a gua sha session, you’ll sit up or lay down either face up or face down. Your practitioner, who should be a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine or an acupuncture physician, will most likely apply an oil or balm to the skin to help the tool glide more easily. Next, the practitioner will use their gua sha tool to perform a scraping motion on the body’s surface.
Most practitioners will use a gentle, steady pressure in one direction. Yet each practitioner will have a slightly different approach. This all depends on their personal preference and if you have a specific problem you want to address. Some may perform gua sha more gently; and others will have a more vigorous approach.
Gua sha often provides immediate relief from pains such as muscle pain. The practitioner performing gua sha often will use it along with acupuncture or cupping, says Dominique Vonador, a board-certified acupuncture physician and founder and owner of Acupuncture and Herbal Solutions in Bradenton, Florida. Cupping is a traditional Chinese practice where cups are used to bring blood to the surface and alleviate pain.
Other treatments that may be used along with gua sha include:
— Massage therapy.
— Moxibustion. This involves heating an herb called mugwort near an acupuncture point, or a part of the body that requires healing.
Gua sha helps because it improves blood circulation in the targeted area of the body, Moy says. This improved blood flow promotes healing. It also helps rid the body of toxins and waste. In ancient Chinese medicine, gua sha is said to improve the body’s qi (pronounced “chee”) or energy flow.
What Does Gua Sha Treat?
Some of the health problems that gua sha is used for include:
— Chronic pain.
— Muscular pain and tightness. For instance, says Gudrun Snyder, a doctor of East Asian medicine and founder of Moon Rabbit Acupuncture in Chicago, often uses gua sha if patients have a pain in their neck after sleeping in an uncomfortable position.
Trained practitioners also use gua sha to help with illnesses like the common cold, says Jenelle Kim, a doctor of Chinese medicine, certified herbalist and founder and lead formulator for JBK Wellness Labs in San Diego.
Gua sha applied to certain areas of the neck, shoulders and upper or mid-back align with your body’s lymphatic system. One function of the lymphatic system, which works with the immune system, is to drain waste and toxins from the body. Those who use gua sha says its use can improve congestion and speed up recovery from a cold.
Some areas of the body where gua sha is commonly used include the:
After having gua sha, your practitioner will likely recommend that you keep the treated area covered, Kim says. This can help with the healing effect of gua sha.
[Read: Tips for Chronic Pain Relief.]
Side Effects and Risks of Gua Sha
Overall, gua sha doesn’t have serious side effects. With the right practitioner, you shouldn’t feel pain. Still, it’s good to know in advance about some skin changes it may create. These include:
— A series of small red dots called petechia. This is the leaking of blood from blood vessels below the skin surface. It is a normal occurrence with gua sha.
— Mild red or purple bruising.
— Mild redness.
These skin marks may look worse than they feel. They shouldn’t be painful, and they should resolve in three to five days, Vonador says.
Some people who shouldn’t have gua sha or who should take precaution with it include those who:
— Are on blood thinners.
— Have thin or broken skin.
— Have a history of poor or slow healing.
The risks for these patients occur because gua sha brings blood to the surface. Your acupuncture physician can work with you individually to determine if gua sha is safe, Moy says.
If gua sha doesn’t feel right, let your practitioner know so they can stop and try another treatment, Vonador advises.
DIY Gua Sha vs. Seeing a Trained Practitioner
If you’re having gua sha for medical reasons, it’s best to work with a trained practitioner to do it. That’s because that person will know the right points on the body to stimulate and make the treatment most effective, Snyder says. At the very least, see a professional the first few times, and then you can ask for some tips on trying gua sha at home.
For facial gua sha that has gained popularity on social media, you also should get some professional guidance either from an acupuncturist or from a course. Online videos may focus on the trend of facial gua sha without showing how to perform it or use the tools safely, Moy says. The skin on the face is delicate and has many blood vessels that you could injure if it’s not done right.
Plus, gua sha performed incorrectly on the face could cause red marks or even contribute to fine lines that you may want to reduce. Tools that aren’t properly cleaned can spread bacteria or cause an outbreak in rosacea or facial herpes if you’re prone to those.
A professional trained in gua sha can tell you which way to move the tool (for example: in upward strokes), where to use it on the face and with what level of force.
Tips to Find the Right Facial Gua Sha Tool
If you’ve done your research and you want to start facial gua sha at home, here are a few tips to help you find the right gua sha tool:
— Buy a tool made with real jade or rose quartz, Snyder advises. These have long been used for gua sha and feel refreshing and cool, even at room temperature. Choose natural stones over man-made materials for your gua sha tool.
— Don’t necessarily buy the cheapest item. You get what you pay for with gua sha tools, and there can be a big difference in quality.
— Look for a tool that is flat and rounded, with no sharp edges that may hurt the skin on your face.
— Wash your tool after using it with warm water and gentle soap to keep it free from bacteria and other elements.
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What Is Gua Sha? How It Works, How It’s Used, Where to Go for Treatment originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 05/16/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.