An ancient healing procedure that several practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine in Bellingham 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.