What is Gua Sha?
Gua Sha is an ancient massage technique which originated from China and by some accounts is over 2,000 years old. It has been adapted by other countries throughout the East and is acommon therapy in both conventional and traditional Chinese medicine today. However, it is seldom used in the West as little is known about it, and it differs greatly from western standards.
Anciently, tools such as animal horns or bones were used to scrape the skin. Now, special gua sha tools are available. The Gua Sha tool is used to scrape the skin of the affected areas, starting towards the spine and working its way out towards the limbs. The motions typically follow the meridians, or energy channels in the body. Lotion or massage oil is generally used to protect the skin. The scraping causes petechial or minor hemorrhaging just beneath the surface of the skin. This is a normal response to releasing blood stagnation. In severe cases, ecchymosis, or slight bruising and redness may last for two to three days following treatment. Because Gua Sha is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, it may also be used in conjunction with other TCM therapies such as acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion and/or herbal remedies.
Acupuncturist Arya Nielsen, who popularized Gua Sha in America, explains that throughout the body is fascia, or connective tissue connecting all the structures of the body. She states, “when blood is stuck in the surface fascia, fabric and function are compromised. There is pain, and a slowing of normal processes, not only there at the surface, but also deeper in the organs… Gua Sha moves this stuck blood, immediately relieves pain and restores the normal processes of circulation”. Although a casual observer may assume at first glance that Gua Sha is painful or causing damage to the skin, those who have undergone the treatment attest to its amazing benefits. Following a session, most report immediate relief of pain, tenderness and stiffness.
Why Gua Sha?
Gua Sha is different from other forms of massage, which focus mainly on relieving tension in the muscles. The purpose of Gua Sha is to stimulate circulation and move “stagnant” blood. Relaxation of the muscles is a natural response to this movement. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, blood stagnation can cause a wide range of health-related issues, including pain, stiffness and inflammation. Allergies, infertility, arthritis and tendinitis are all examples of disorders which are related to stagnant blood.