Understanding The Benefits And Side Effects Of Gua Sha Therapy

Gua sha is an alternative and natural form of therapy involving the scraping of the skin with a massage instrument to enhance circulation. This age-old Chinese healing method can offer a unique approach to good health, treating ailments such as chronic pain.

A gua sha practitioner scrapes your skin with long or short strokes to boost microcirculation of your soft tissue thus increasing blood circulation. The practitioner applies these strokes using a smooth-edged tool known as a gua massage instrument. He or she applies massage oil to the client’s skin, and then uses the instrument scrape the client’s skin over and over in a downward motion.

Gua sha is designed to eliminate stagnant energy. This stagnancy is what practitioners believe is responsible for inflammation, which is the root cause of a wide variety of conditions related to chronic pain. Rubbing the surface of the skin is believed to help break up the stagnancy, relieve inflammation, and bring about healing.

Gua sha therapy is usually done on the legs, arms, neck, buttocks, and back of a person. A mild version of this therapy is even used to enhance the appearance of the face. The practitioner applies light pressure, and gradually raises the intensity to ascertain how much pressure the client/patient can handle.

Benefits of Gua Sha

Gua sha therapy is mostly used to alleviate inflammation; therefore, it’s used to cure issues such as fibromyalgia and arthritis which cause chronic pain, as well as factors that trigger joint and muscle pain.

This procedure can treat symptoms of conditions such as:

  1. Migraine headaches: Gua sha can be recommended if your migraine headaches won’t work on over-the-counter medications. In a study involving a 72-year-old woman suffering from chronic headaches, gua sha therapy was administered on her for two weeks. During those times, her migraines got better implying that this centuries-old healing method can be an ideal  remedy for headaches. More studies are needed.
  1. Perimenopausal syndrome: Perimenopause is likely to develop as women move closer to menopause. Symptoms include:
  • irregular period
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • fatigue
  • hot flashes

It was found in one study that gua sha helps decrease perimenopause symptoms in some women.

The study monitored 80 women all suffering from symptoms of perimenopause. The control group just received conventional treatment while the treatment group was treated with gua sha combined with conventional treatment for 15 minutes once a week for eight weeks.

  1. Tourette syndrome: This syndrome is a disorder in which a person suffers involuntary movements such as vocal outbursts, throat clearing, and facial tics. It’s observed from a single case study that when combined with other therapies, gua sha can help decrease the symptoms of Tourette syndrome among subject patients.

The case study involved a 33-year-old male suffering from Tourette’s syndrome since he was 9 years old. He was advised to modify his lifestyle, and undergo gua sha, herbal therapy, and acupuncture in Bellingham. His symptoms got better by 70% after undergoing 35 treatments once each week. Even if this man showed significant improvements, further studies are still needed.

  1. Neck pain:  Gua sha therapy has also proven effective in the treatment of chronic neck pain. To ascertain the efficacy of this procedure, researchers divided the 48 patient subjects into two groups. One group used a thermal heating pad to treat neck pain and the other was treated with gua sha. After a week, patients who were treated with gua sha therapy experienced less pain than the group treated that used a thermal heating pad.

After end of the study, the treatment group experienced a greater decrease of symptoms such as hot flashes, headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia compared to the control group. Researchers concluded that gua sha therapy can be an appropriate and safe remedy for chronic neck pain.

  1. Swelling of the Breast: Breast swelling is a condition many breastfeeding women experience. This issue arises when the breasts overfill with milk. This often occurs if the mother is not near the infant for any reason or in the initial weeks of breastfeeding. Breasts become painful and swollen, making it hard for babies to latch. This condition is merely a temporary condition.

In one case study, the women were treated with gua sha from the 2nd day after delivery up until they left the hospital. In the weeks after giving birth, the hospital followed up with these women and discovered that several of them experienced fewer incidents of breast discomfort, breast fullness, and breast engorgement. This allowed them to breastfeed their babies in a less painful manner.

  1. Hepatitis B: This disease is caused by a viral infection that results in liver scarring, liver damage, and liver inflammation. Studies indicate that gua sha can help treat chronic inflammation of the liver.

A case study involved a man who was examined and found to have high liver enzymes, which indicated liver inflammation. After 48 hours of being with treated with gua sha therapy, he experienced a reduction of his liver enzymes. Researchers concluded that gua sha has the power to treat liver inflammation, thereby reducing the risk of liver damage. More studies are being conducted, as we speak.

Side Effects

Considering that it’s a natural healing remedy, gua sha is deemed to be safe. It should not generate pain, although the process may alter the appearance of your skin. It can cause tiny blood vessels known as capillaries near the skin surface to burst because the process involves scraping or rubbing the skin with a massage instrument. This can lead to pain and skin bruising. Within a couple of days, the bruising typically vanishes.

There are also people who may experience temporary skin indentation after a session of gua sha therapy.

There’s also the chance of transmitting bloodborne illnesses to others if any bleeding arises; therefore, it’s important for practitioners to disinfect their instruments after each client/patient.


  1. If you’ve undergone any type of surgery in the last six weeks, avoid this procedure.
  1. People who have clotting disorders or taking blood thinners aren’t good candidates for gua sha.

The takeaway

As gleaned from this article, studies show that gua sha can provide relief when conventional treatments fail to cure your symptoms.

Gus sha therapy may seem simple and straightforward; however, only a practitioner of Chinese medicine or a licensed acupuncturist is allowed to perform this practice. This ensures a proper and safe treatment. More studies are required although we can confidently state that there this massage technique has very few associated risks.

Make sure the practitioner or acupuncturist you choose is certified in performing gua sha therapy. Certification affirms they have a basic understanding of this healing tradition. Getting treatment from a professional enhances the efficacy of the treatment and lessens the risk of severe bruising or pain due to excessive force.

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