Gua Sha What?

Various Gua Sha tools.

Various Gua Sha Tools

By now, quite a few of you have experienced the, some would say “interesting”, tools I use to create more effective and efficient sessions. The tool set needing further education fall under the technique called “Gua Sha,” the ancient art of body combing.

What Is Gua Sha?

Gua Sha (pronounced “gwa shaw”) is a healing technique used throughout Asia. Gua means “to rub or friction.” Sha is the term used to describe congestion of blood at the surface of the body. When friction is applied in repeated even strokes, the cha surfaces as small red petechiae (reddish, elevated skin rash). In minutes the petechiae fade into ecchymotic patches. The cha disappears totally in two to four days. The color and rate of fading are both diagnostic and prognostic indicators.

Why Do It?

The benefits of Gua Sha are many. I break out the tools when there is a stubborn knot, or adhesion, that needs broken up quickly. Gua Sha tools flatten the adhesion faster and more efficiently than using thumbs. It moves stuck blood, promoting normal circulation to the muscles, tissues, and organs directly beneath the surface treated. In the process it works simultaneously on the skin, lymph system, blood vessels, nerves, and brain. This in turn affects the entire body. The client experiences immediate changes in stiffness, pain, and mobility. Normal metabolic processes are restored by the movement of fluids as nutrients are carried to the tissues and metabolic wastes are carried away. As a fun aside, because Gua Sha mimics sweating, it even resolves fever!

Gua Sha cools someone who is overheated, warms a person who is chilled, nourishes those who are deficient, and clears the client who is experiencing an “excess.” Gua Sha is therefore considered an adaptogenic, or regulating, technique.

Gua Sha helps to strengthen the immune system, cleanses the body of toxins, improves circulation and rebalance emotions. As a result, it provides relief for all sorts of different ailments as well as being a valuable preventative therapy:

  • pain associated with acute and chronic disorders
  • back, neck, and other musculoskeletal problems
  • coughs and colds
  • flu, bronchitis, and asthma
  • digestive disorders

Gua Sha is considered as a technique in any case of pain or discomfort, for upper respiratory or digestive problems, and for any condition where palpation indicates there is sha. Sha is raised primarily at the Yang surface of the body: the back, neck, shoulders, buttocks, and limbs. On occasion, Gua Sha is applied at the chest and abdomen.

How Is Gua Sha Applied?

Gua Sha relieves various types of issues.After lubricating the skin with oil or cream, the area to be treated is scraped (to client tolerance), until the Sha is drawn to the surface in the form of a mild rash. The marks are usually red, although their colour can range from pink to dark purple depending on the condition and the severity of blood stagnation.

Although the skin may look angry it’s not painful, although there may be a slight bruised sensation the next day. Within hours of treatment it starts to fade and a few days later is gone. The therapeutic effects can be dramatic. Even after the first treatment, pain is eased, mobility improves and life begins to feel good again. I’ve recently been working with a client experiencing chronic pain in her upper arm effecting range of motion for years. Countless types of therapy have not unlocked the pain. After a few sessions of Gua Sha the pain is moved out and she doesn’t think about that area anymore. What a relief!

After Gua Sha, the client should cover the area, avoiding wind and exposure to the sun or sudden change in temperature. Stretching is also recommended but not a heavy workout on the day of treatment. The Sha petechiae should fade in 2-4 days. If it is slower to fade, indicating poor blood circulation, the practitioner must find out whether it is deficiency of Blood, Qi or Yang, a deeper stagnation, or organ deficiency at the root.

How Safe Is It?

Gua Sha is a completely safe technique, but it is serious medicine. Knowing when to use it and what to expect from treatment is as important as good technique. People who live in chronic pain often have emotional defenses to cope or can feel completely hopeless. Having that pain ‘touched’ and relieved can be unsettling, even shocking. Because of this psychological involvement, it is good to be moderate in activity after treatment for the rest of the day, even rest.

What Do The Tools Look Like?

I use a few different types from a Chinese soup spoon to various shapes cut from water buffalo horn. As my father taught me at a very young age, life is all about having the right tool for the job.

See you on the table!