Gua sha is a technique I use for patients who have muscle pain or an acute attack of the common cold. It boosts the immune system as well as reduces inflammation. It is also effective for treating headaches and breaking up scar tissue on many areas of the body.
During a gua sha treatment, I apply some medicinal liniment or a neutral oil to the local area. I use a sterilized spoon to scrape the area until redness appears. The scraping does not usually hurt. Often, little red spots called petechiae arise on the skin. In Chinese medicine this is called “sha.” While these marks look unsightly, they are part of the healing process and will disappear in the days following treatment. After treatment, it is advised to keep the area clothed or covered with a scarf to avoid exposure to cold or wind until the marks disappear.
Gua sha is used in Chinese medicine to remove what is called “blood stasis.” Blood stasis can be a reason for pain and illness in the body. Releasing the blood in a controlled way can help the body heal itself. When the skin is scraped, small amounts of blood are released from the vessels and then reabsorbed into the body. This reabsorption causes the breakdown of hemoglobin in the blood cells, which causes the release of an enzyme called heme oxygenase-1. This enzyme and its reactions produce anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
As we enter into the coldest months of winter, it is important to do our best to avoid the cold and flu. Gua sha is an effective treatment to help us manage these conditions, and many others. If you are interested in reading more about the science behind how gua sha works, visit this post by Dr. Arya Nielsen, PhD written for the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.