Clinical Study Suggests Gua Sha Therapy Can Be Useful In The Treatment Of Chronic Neck Pain

An ancient healing procedure that several practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine in Fremont utilize, Gua sha is a therapy that involves the application of a lubricating medium like massage oil on the skin over the part of the body to be treated. The practitioner then uses a smooth-edged tool to apply long or short strokes on the skin, usually on the back parallel to the spine or on the site of pain. This stroking movement produces an elevated bruising called ecchymosis or redness called petechiae.

Chronic and acute pain are both the most common indications for the use of gua sha. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), pain is caused by the sluggish motion of blood within a localized area of discomfort. Gua sha works on the principle that stagnation can be eliminated by stroking the problem area with a smooth-edged instrument in order to boost the smooth circulation of blood in the area, resulting in the relief of pain.

Gua sha is mostly used in the treatment of pain although it can also be utilized to resolve various ailments including muscle spasms, sprains, strains, fibromyalgia, heatstroke, fever, flu, colds, bronchitis, and asthma.

There are a number of theories circulating around explaining how and why this ancient technique works. One theory suggests that gua sha boosts microcirculation in the soft tissue which sets off the natural pain-relieving qualities of the body. This in turn blocks the pain reaction channels causing you to not feel pain.

Others consider gua sha as some type of folk therapy; however medical researchers may beg to differ. According to Harvard University researchers, gua sha therapy’s effectiveness in the treatment of neck pain has been proven as gleaned in a study published in Pain Medicine in 2011. The study showed that gua sha reduced pain for people suffering from chronic neck pain. The researchers noted that after a week of gua sha therapy, the severity of their neck pain significantly improved compared to the group (control group) treated with heat therapy.

Various techniques were used by researchers including Doppler images, to reveal how microcirculation increased in the site of treatment thereby reducing both distal and local areas of pain. In animal (mice) studies, gua sha was observed to affect the protective antioxidative Heme Oxygenase-1 enzyme in the cells. A provocative case study demonstrated how gua sha reduces the inflammatory markers of a patient suffering from liver injury related to Hepatitis B indicating that the therapy may even have a shielding effect on the liver. As with all forms of Eastern alternative treatments, Western medicine has yet to validate the efficacy of this multi-millennial healing art.

The Why And Wherefores Of Gua Sha Therapy

A healing technique used by Austin Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners in Asia in both home and clinical settings, Gua Sha involves the cutaneous stimulation and palpation of the skin and the application of pressure on the treatment site using a round-edged instrument in a stroke-like motion. Gua Sha produces reddish, small petechiae called ‘sha’ that fade within two or three days.

Elevated Sha eliminate pathogenic blood stagnation encouraging normal metabolic processes and circulation. As a result, the patient feels instant relief from symptoms such as nausea, cough, chill, fever, stiffness, and pain. This technique is very useful in the treatment and prevention of digestive disorders, chronic and acute illnesses, upper respiratory conditions, and acute infections.

When is Gua Sha used?

Whether it is an associated chronic or acute disorder, Gua Sha is used whenever a patient experiences discomfort and pain. Their condition may be a tight feeling, tenderness, and aching in the muscles. Sha is revealed during palpation when normal manual application of pressure on the skin of the patient results in blanching that dissipates gradually. Aside from addressing musculoskeletal infirmities, Gua Sha can be used to heal and prevent common illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, flu, and cold as well as stagnation of Blood and Chi, pain and other forms of chronic disorders.

Where is Gua Sha Administered?

Sha is elevated at the Yang (hot) areas of the body: the limbs, buttocks, shoulders, neck, and back. Sometimes, the therapy is performed on the stomach and chest.

How Does One Perform Gua Sha Therapy?

Oil is rubbed and lubricated on the area of the body where treatment is to be performed. Then the skin is rubbed in downward strokes using a round-edged tool. One part of the body is stroked until the petechiae that appear are totally elevated. If Blood stasis does not occur, the petechiae cannot occur and the skin will only turn into a pinkish color.

The Tools Used In Gua Sha Therapy

In Asia, the tools used in Gua Sha include a slice of horn of a water buffalo, a round-edged jade stone, or a soup-spoon. Some practitioners have discovered that a simple rounded edged metal cap can be the most comfortable and best tool that can be used on a patient.

What does the color of the Sha suggest?

The Sha’s color can be used to prognosticate and diagnose a condition. A Sha of a very light color may suggest Blood Deficiency. A fresh, reddish Sha is of recent penetration. A black or purple Sha would indicate long term Blood stasis. Blood may be dry if the Sha is brown while Sha with a dark reddish color would suggest heat.

How quickly do the petechiae disappear?

The petechiae of the Sha typically vanish within two to four days. Poor blood circulation will cause the petechiae to fade slower. This means the practitioner should double check whether the underlying cause is organ deficiency, a much deeper stagnation, or deficiency of Yang, Chi, or Blood.

The Health Benefits of Gua Sha Therapy

The patient usually experiences an instant change in his condition especially with regards to a sense of constraint or pain. Gua Sha helps stagnant Blood and Chi to move. It also frees up the Exterior moving Fluids and mimicking perspiration. These fluids are made up of metabolic waste that accumulates on the muscles and tissue surfaces. Gua Sha normalizes metabolic processes, encourages circulation, and is useful for both internal and external pain. Furthermore, it expedites the treatment of both chronic and acute conditions.

Is Gua Sha Safe?

While it is a really serious form of treatment, Gua Sha is nonetheless a totally safe procedure. Understanding its use and what to expect from the therapy is as equally valuable as the technique. If you’ve been living in pain for a long time, you may either feel totally helpless treat the condition or develop emotional defenses to cope with it. It can be unsettling or even shocking to have that pain relieved and ‘touched’. After treatment, you should rest or at least only indulge in light to moderate activities. Following treatment, patients should rest all day and not do the following things: work out, perform hard labor, feast, fast, have sex, drink booze, or take drugs.