Whenever a patient has pain in any chronic or acute disorder gua sha therapy can be used. There may be a knotty feeling, tenderness, and/or aching in the muscles. Palpation can determine sha when normal finger pressure is applied on the patient’s skin resulting in blanching that is slow to dissipate. Aside from alleviating musculoskeletal pain, gua sha can be used to prevent or treat common ailments like asthma, bronchitis, flu, and cold as well as any chronic disorder that involve inflammation or pain.
Practically any part of the body can undergo Gua sha although the therapy is usually done at the limbs, buttocks, stomach, chest, shoulders, neck, and back. It can also be applied over the joints but not without first treating the energy pathways that supply a joint area.
The treatment begins with the area of treatment lubricated with balm or oil. The area is press-stroked with a round-edged instrument in one direction until the petechiae are completely elevated. One can learn how to safely apply Gua sha from an experienced master practitioner.
In China, peanut oil was the lubricant of choice for many practitioners. In the West, some practitioners use Vick’s Vapo-rub because of the aroma which is familiar to many patients. You need to know though that Vicks is a petroleum based product. Tiger Balm may not be a good lubricant for Gua sha because it is too spicy.
In Asia, practitioners use a wide variety of scraping tools like jade, horn of a water buffalo, coin, or soup spoon. Some have discovered that a simple rounded lip metal cap can be an ideal scraping tool mainly because it feels more comfortable to the patient. Also after one use, it can be easily disposed of thus avoiding any risk of transferring blood borne diseases to another person.
The color of the Sha is used for both prognostic and diagnostic purposes. The practitioner observes the color of the sha, how rapidly it vanishes, and its quality. The information gleaned from this observation will determine the diagnosis, that is, in evaluating the pattern, mutability, quality, and location of the problem.
The petechiae of the Sha usually should fade within two to four days. If it fades slower, this may mean the blood flow in the body is weak and the practitioner must determine whether its root cause is organ deficiency; deeper stagnation; or Yang, Qi, or Blood deficiency.
However, in most instances, the patient experiences a rapid improvement of his condition especially with regards to range of movement, sense of constraint, and/or pain. According to traditional Chinese medicine, Gua Sha works by moving stagnant Blood and Qi, freeing the Exterior, and by moving, sweating, and mimicking Fluids.
Recent clinical studies have revealed that Gua sha eliminates inflammation and pain while activating a protective immune reaction that, following treatment, can last for days. It is an ideal remedy for musculoskeletal conditions and for internal organ problems like hepatic and respiratory inflammation.
A safe technique when perform by a well-trained practitioner, Gua sha is also serious medicine. As important as knowing how the technique is done is knowing when to use it and what to expect from the treatment. Since Gua sha elevates cells out of the blood vessels and some of these cells may manifest in the skin, the practitioner must follow safety guidelines to prevent the patient from being exposed to blood borne diseases.
After treatment, you need to rest and only perform moderate activity if it’s really needed. You should not feast, fast, have sex, drink booze, take drugs, or perform hard labor (that includes working out) for the rest of the day.
Zuobiao (Roy) Yuan is a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of chinese medicine in Edina, MN.