Gua sha is an East Asian healing technique that you can perform at home to treat ailments such as respiratory problems. In the West, this therapy is often referred to as “scraping”.
As with most alternative natural therapies, gua sha has not been exposed to thorough scientific investigation. But two years ago, a small study published in the Pain Medicine journal, discovered that gua sha produced short-term benefits for chronic neck pain compared to a thermal heating pad.
MedStar National Rehabilitation Network physical therapist, Leslie Fazio, first knew about gua sha from a co-worker and integrated the method into her practice. Since then, she uses it to treat foot pain such as plantar fasciitis and leg muscle problems such as Achilles tendonitis. She observed that her patients may find the therapy quite uncomfortable.
To locate the parts of the body that feel tight, gua sha practitioners like massage therapists, will palpate the bodies of their patients. After locating the areas to be treated, they then rub the areas with a small tool like a spoon until they turn red. Basically, the technique involves scraping the restriction in their skin.
It is easy to determine where to scrape tight muscles; distinguishing the areas where to scrape for other conditions is decided by traditions that relate to different organs in the body.
In Germany, researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen teaching hospital devised a randomized clinical trial that involved patients suffering from chronic mechanical neck pain. They were given gua sha therapy while the control group was treated with heating pads to the neck.
According to the results of the study, “in the group treated with gua sha, the degree of neck pain after a week significantly got better compared to the control group.” Major therapeutic effects were seen in the improvement of the quality of life of the patients and for pain at motion as well.
The researchers concluded that “the importance of gua sha in the long-term management of neck pain and associated related functions remains to be seen.”
A lot of gua sha practitioners make sweeping claims about the abilities of the treatment of preventing and treating various types of ailments. They believe that gua sha is a reassuring remedy for mastitis and neck pain. Mastitis is the engorgement of the breast that adversely impacts some breast-feeding mothers.
Gua sha therapy creates minor hemorrhages from broken blood vessels and deliberately elevates temporary therapeutic petechiae. The scraping is an instrument-aided uni-directional press stroking that brings about an immune and anti-inflammatory response.
Some people in the West have certain misconceptions about gua sha due to the fact that it creates petechiae that really look horrifying. However, the treatment doesn’t actually cause pain. What it does is it stimulates the immune system and when the back is scraped it can help relieve conditions that aren’t associated with the back pain.
Gua sha is not intended to be a substitute for antibiotics. Nonetheless, it can stimulate the immune response of the body that in turn could help combat the infection, making the antibiotic more effective.
There are not many Chinese medicine clinics and practitioners in Encino that offer gua sha in the States. In New York, it is believed that there are hundreds of acupuncturists practicing this therapy. There is no gua sha certification or licensure although it’s regularly taught at Chinese medicine schools.