In the Chinese healing art of gua sha therapy, the acupuncturist 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 area where pain is felt pain. This stroking movement tends to produce petechiae (elevated redness) and ecchymosis (raised bruising) on the body.
Chronic and acute pain is the most common indication for gua sha. Pain, according to Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), is oftentimes attributed to blood stagnation in the localized part of the body. Behind gua sha therapy, there is a guiding principle that gives this technique the ability to stimulate the smooth flow of blood in the area to treat stagnation, which alleviates pain in the body.
Practitioners of TCM use gua sha for treatments other than the relief of pain. These include treatment of muscle spasms, sprains, strains, fibromyalgia, heatstroke, fever, bronchitis, asthma and other conditions.
Several theories abound as to why and how this multi-millennial technique works. One theory states that gua sha boosts microcirculation or the flow of blood in the soft tissue, activates the natural pain-relieving mechanisms of the body, and prevents the pain response signals from reaching the brain, so one experiences an alleviation of pain.
Gua sha is considered folk medicine to some people. However, researchers from Harvard University have offered insights and have shown how effective gua sha works. In Pain Medicine, 2011 edition, a study was published that demonstrated gua sha’s ability to reduce pain in patients with chronic neck pain. The researchers observed that “the severity of neck pain improved after a week in the gua sha group which was significantly greater than that of the heat therapy group (control group).”
Doppler images and other techniques have been used to demonstrate how microcirculation has indeed increased in the area of treatment. This has led to the reduction of both distal and localized areas of pain. Gua sha therapy on mice has been shown to influence the Heme Oxygenase-1 enzyme which has a guarding antioxidative influence in the cells. Another clinical study revealed how gua sha reduces inflammatory markers of a patient suffering liver injury related to Hepatitis B. This implied that gua sha can even have a safeguarding effect on the liver. Once again, Western medical science has yet to validate the efficacy of this ancient remedy.
For those who are seriously considering gua sha therapy, you need to look for a licensed and qualified acupuncturist near your area. During your initial consultation, the acupuncturist will first perform a comprehensive evaluation of your health to make sure you are eligible for this type of treatment.
Steven Goldfarb, is a licensed acupuncturist in West Orange, NJ with advanced training in modern acupuncture techniques and traditional Asian therapies.