What Happens During A Gua Sha Therapy Session?

The first recorded texts pertaining to gua sha date to the Ming Dynasty era which is around seven centuries ago although historians believe the practice is much older than that, probably having been practiced since prehistoric times arguably because of the simple mechanical function of rubbing a sore area to make the pain disappear.

Gua sha is a term made up of two Chinese words: gua, which means to scrape or rub, and sha, a kind of stagnant energy that causes the buildup of excess heat within the body. The phrase gua sha means the process of rubbing the skin to eliminate blocked energy. Based on the theory of traditional Chinese medicine, gua sha is known to free blocked heat and energy by sending heat to the surface of the skin.

Gua sha is one of the earliest forms of physical therapy. It is mostly used address muscle and joint pain. Applied traditionally, in conformance with the energy channels or meridians of the body, a lot of patients in China and other regions of East Asia also practice gua sha as a first line of defense against disease and as a type of preventive medicine. This therapy has been used to resolve a wide variety of chronic and acute health problems including respiratory infections, asthma, digestive disorders, fever, and headache, as well as general fatigue, insomnia, and health issues related to women.


Traditionally, Gua sha is administered with any easy to use instrument having a smooth edge that can be rubbed across the surface of the skin. These instruments may include a coin, spoon, or porcelain. However, among gua sha devotees, the horn of a water buffalo is one of the popularly used materials for gua sha toolmaking because it is noted for its ability to hold and form a polished and smooth edge. Nowadays, the instrument used in Gua Sha therapy come from a variety of materials and the right instrument for a patient will depend on his needs and budget.

Gua sha therapy in Jacksonville is usually done on the buttocks, back, and posterior surfaces of the legs, arms, shoulders, and neck. It is also occasionally performed on the stomach or chest. Oil is first applied to the area of treatment, then, using the edge of a gua sha tool at a 45-degree angle to the skin, the practitioner applies strokes along the surface of the skin.

The overall well-being of the patient receiving the therapy dictates the force and speed of the strokes. Weaker patients should be given tonifying therapy which is strokes and that are slower and lighter; on the other hand, stronger patients are more able to endure deeper and faster pressure known commonly as purging therapy.

The strokes involved in Gua sha therapy are always administered in the same direction, often downward, from the head down to the feet. Western medicine refers to this form of stroke as “tribo-effleurage”, this means friction- or resistance stroking. Around 12 to 36 strokes about six to seven inches long are applied to the same area before moving on to the next site of treatment. After the therapy, we advise the patient to rest. Also, be sure to hydrate with adequate room temperature water or warm water.

While gua sha therapy is considered a very safe form of treatment, we do not recommend it for every person. You should not receive gua sha if you have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinning drugs. You can receive gua sha if you have open wounds, varicose veins, or moles, but caution should taken to avoid those areas.

What to Expect

You should not feel pain when receiving Gua sha. However, after a gua sha session, the ensuing skin appearance can be alarming and dramatic. The stroking movements of gua sha cause the capillaries near the surface of the skin to bleed, resulting in the appearance of reddish to purplish streaks along the stroke patterns.

The therapy does not cause the capillaries to rupture when it’s applied correctly, therefore no bruising is expected to occur and the redness typically vanishes within two to four days. The body probably experiences poor circulation if the marks take longer to fade.

Significant rise in local circulation happens 30 minutes after a treatment session. Metabolic waste (toxins) and fluids are drawn to the area as the strokes are administered. When the therapy has ended, the fluid diminishes, leaving an indentation.

You may start sweating and/or feel a change in energy during and immediately after a gua sha session.

How Gua Sha Therapy Works

According to the theory of traditional Chinese medicine, gua sha is designed to distribute obstructed throughout the body. Although this is not considered a concept of Western medicine, both systems accept the outcomes: reduced pain and inflammation.

So, based from a Western viewpoint, how can the effects of gua sha be understood? One solution is to take into account the way the nervous system is built. The desire to shake or rub a painful body area to make it stop hurting is ubiquitous. You are generating non-painful sensations when you do this. These sensations then neutralize the painful ones. As both non-painful and painful stimuli go into the spinal cord on their way to the brain a mechanical cycle within the spinal cord prevents some of the pain signals from reaching the brain, decreasing the severity of pain that the brain senses.

Reduced pain sensation also relaxes your nervous system, enables the inherent healing mechanisms of the body to be expressed, and lowers the anxiety and stress that occurs from pain. This increases the pace of healing and boosted ability to resist disease and injury.

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