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Frequently Asked Questions About Gua Sha

After recently being featured on The Dr. Oz Show, gua sha has become a point of curiosity to Americans interested in alternative therapies. Many of my own patients are asking me about it, and you may have wound up on this page because you too have questions about the practice. Here's a quick look at the practice.

Where Does Gua Sha Come From?

The name gua sha is Chinese, and the technique is widely believed to have originated in China. Chinese texts make reference to it as early as 200 BC. This method of healing has been used all over eastern Asia for many hundreds of years, though, and it goes by different names in different countries. For example, it's known as cao gio in Vietnam, kos khyol in Cambodia, and kerik in Indonesia.

How Is Gua Sha Practiced?

Gua sha is most often applied to the back, shoulders, neck, limbs, and buttocks. Occasionally, it's applied to the chest and abdomen. The area to be treated is lubricated with a massage oil, petroleum jelly, or other suitable substance. Then, a hard, rounded object is pressed firmly into the skin and dragged downward.

What Does Gua Sha Treat?

This technique is employed for a wide variety of acute and chronic problems. It is commonly used to remedy chronic pain. A recent study published in the American Academy of Pain Medicine's Pain Medicine Journal found gua sha to be highly effective for treating chronic neck pain. Other afflictions treated include colds, flus, bronchitis, asthma, fevers, heatstroke, fibromyalgia, muscle spasms, strains, and sprains. There is also some evidence the practice strengthens the liver.

What Are the Immediate Effects of Gua Sha?

The skin develops what appears to be a rash comprised of small dots—often red—in response to gua sha. Sometimes, there is bruising, too. These red bumps, caused by subcutaneous bleeding, are called petechiae. The rash-like effects can be other colors, including purple, black, and brown. These effects usually last two to four days, but may last longer, especially in those with poor blood circulation.

What Implements Are Used for Gua Sha?

Individual practitioners find the tools that work best for them. Spoon-like implements, coins, and rounded bits of water buffalo horn or jade are some traditional tools for gua sha. Jar lids are often used today.

What is the Theory Behind Gua Sha?

Gua sha provides a release for stagnant or congested blood and qi (or chi). It generally enhances circulation to increase oxygenation and nutrient transport and to facilitate processes of internal waste removal. The technique also triggers the body's natural mechanisms for dulling pain and promotes healthier, more efficient metabolic function.