Gua Sha in Chinese is “刮痧”. Like many Chinese terms, it is a combination of characters, and in this case, it is combination of two characters: “刮” and “痧”. In direct translation, “刮 (Gua)” means “scrape” and “痧 (Sha)” means “sand”. Originally, 痧 is written as 沙 which means sand that we see on the beach, but as the Chinese language developed, 痧 is used to describe a medical condition. So, what is sand or Sha (痧) as a medical condition? It is the red small dots that appears on the skin after scrapping. In Western Medicine, it is called petechiae. Some people translate it as the blockage in our body, and Gua Sha is just the way to get the blockage out from hiding.
Gua Sha is one of the most ancient way of making people feel better. No medicine is required, and the tools that can be used for Gua Sha can be as easy as our hands, fingers, a tread of string, or any object with smooth surface. It is also not invasive, so it is wildly used at home by many families in China. I have met many patients with their own special ways of doing Gua Sha or similar technique. However, just to note that about more than half of those special ways are not safe or healthy, and many of them actually injure the body more.
Before we get too deep into how it works and what are the red dots, let’s talk about the benefit of Gua Sha. If you Google “Gua Sha”, there are tons of information that you can find, and the benefits covers from a simple back pain to weight lose to even chronic disease like hepatitis B. It reduces muscle tension, boosts your immune system, reduces inflammation, and increase circulation. I found one interesting article from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine called “The Science of Gua Sha“. If you are interested in their finding, it is a good read. From my experience, Gua Sha works wonder for tension and stress. Of course, it works for lots of things, but it works best for tension and stress that stores in our body from our longer and longer fight or flight mode.
Now we talk talks about how it works. When there is a blockage/tension/stress stored in certain part of our body, we feel tight, sore, pain and all soft of discomfort. The circulation in that area would be slower and we can usually feel a knot when we rub the tense area. What Gua Sha does is to scrape those blockage/tension and bring whatever that cause blockage to the surface of our skin where our capillaries will slowly take those away. It is a similar idea as to use a broom to bring dusts out from under our beds or the corners.
There are lots of different kind of Gua Sha tools out there. When you search online, you see various shapes and sizes. In addition, they are all made out of different materials. Water buffalo horns are said to be the best material, because it is all natural and contains no chemical products and cause no allergy to most people, and water buffalo horns are herbal medicine that can help with movement of Qi (energy), reducing blood stasis, and nourishing the skin. However, I have use tools that are made out of wood, plastic, ceramic, jade, water buffalo horns, and different kind of stones and crystals, and they all works very well. In my opinion, just use anything that is easy to clean and solid with a smooth edge. Some of my patients use coins to Gua Sha, and it is not recommended. Coins are usually not clean and without smooth edge, so it breaks skin even with application of oil or other lubricants, and it might cause infections.
Gua Sha tools usually comes with two different kinds of edges. One would be more narrow and one would be wilder. The narrow edge is more commonly use in our daily practice as has the function of “disperse”. It means that it is used as we described earlier to scoop out the dust in our body and help clean them out. The wilder/rounder edge is used for “tonification”. It means that it provides a more gentle scrape that focus on boosting our circulation and Qi.
Now it comes to how to do it right.
Since Gua Sha involve using something to rub on the skin repeatedly, oil or your favorite lubricant is a must have. The pores on our skin will open up during this process, so you want to pick something that your patient is not allergy to and something that is safe for the skin. In my clinic, I sometimes mix in herbal oil that I specially made to speed up the healing. For example, I use different oils for weight lose patients in compare to back pain patients. And it is always important that you clean the hands, skin surface, and sterilize Gua Sha tools before start doing anything and after the treatment.
There are various different way to perform Gua Sha. Here I will just give a general rule about how it should be done. First, no excess pain should be involved. The force that is applied should be enough to scrape the Gua Sha tool again the skin steadily, but without causing unbearable pain. Too much force will just injury the subcutaneous tissues or capillaries. For more tense area, the speed of scraping can be faster, and to boost energy and reduce stress, slower and softer scraping is more appropriated. When I do Gua Sha for most of my patients, they don’t even feel any pain. It should be a comfortable experience. Second, the direction should be from up to down and from center to outward. Avoid scraping over open wound or on the bone, especially the spine, unless instructed by a licensed acupuncturist. Third, if there is no “Sha” appears, it is okay. There is no need to increase strength or to spend more time at the area. Normally 3 to 5 minutes at an area is enough, and spending more than 20 minutes at a spot is not recommended. Forth, prior to the next Gua Sha session, you should wait until that all Sha (red dots) disappeared. Usually it takes about 3 to 5 days for all the Sha to disappear.
Overall, Gua Sha can be a good home remedy for preventive medicine. I would recommend that everyone look into how the twelve meridians flows and use Gua Sha to follow the direction of meridians to massage the meridians lightly. It should help boots energy and promote overall health and wellness.