What is Gua Sha?

Gua sha is a technique that scrapes the skin using a tool such as a coin, spoon, or specialized gua sha tools. Originally used as a folk remedy in Traditional Chinese Medicine to relieve cold and respiratory symptoms, the current offerings for gua sha with a quick Google search bring up hits for facials, lymph drainage, beauty treatments, reducing inflammation, and the list goes on.

I was first introduced to gua sha in massage school back in 2006. We applied massage lotion to an area of the back that was tight and sore, then used the edge of a tiger balm lid to scrape the sore spot. The affected area produced a bright rosy patch which calmed down after several days. After the session, we were told that the client shouldn’t remove their shirt or allow the area to get cold for 24 hours.

In my practice, I recommend gua sha for muscle adhesions, areas that lack blood flow, and stubborn knots. Small red marks called petichiae may appear after scraping but after several days the redness will subside. The scraping creates a small bruise and the body responds by sending fresh blood and lymph to the area, along with assisting in moving and loosening up tissue.

Gua sha is the older sister of the Graston Technique® used by many Physical Therapists and Chiropractors. Graston practitioners focus on explaining the technique through anatomical and physiological terms, while gua sha is explained by moving “qi” or life energy. They are both techniques that involve scraping the skin to improve movement within the body.

While I don’t offer gua sha as an exclusive treatment, it may be included in any length of massage scheduled.

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