What is Gua Sha

What is Gua Sha? by Adam Haysom-McDowell

In Chinese, the word Gua is defined as scraping or rubbing, and the word Sha as an area of red skin. Together the words Gua Sha (pronounced Gwar Shar) indicate a method of rubbing or scraping to produce small red spots called ‘petachiae’. Variations of Gua Sha, have been found throughout Southeast Asia and it has a long and rich history. In China, it dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). As a Chinese Medicine therapy, Gua Sha moves the Qi and the Blood, which reduces pain. The therapy also clears heat, which is why for generations it was used as a method of reducing fevers, in both the young and the elderly.

Some of the most common conditions Gua Sha is used for are:

  • Post exercise soreness
  • Back & Neck Pain
  • Shoulder Pain / Rotator Cuff Injury
  • Ankle Injury
  • Carpal Tunnel Pain
  • Headache / Migraine
  • Fever
  • Common Cold

Traditional tools such as smooth edged coins, jade stone & buffalo horn were used, with a medium such as tiger balm, or massage oil, to rub the skin to produce the distinctive Sha (red marks). Today the most common tools are flat pieces of stone, or commonly, a porcelain Chinese soup spoon.

With the increasing integration of Chinese Medicine therapies into Western modalities, more scientific research is being done on the physiological effects of Gua Sha and how it works to reduce muscle pain, treat headache, reduce the symptoms of the flu, asthma, and even mastitis. 

A study using laser doppler imaging measured the effects of Gua Sha on blood flow of the area treated and it was found that there was a 400% increase of microcirculation in the first 7.5 minutes after treatment with a significant elevation for 25 minutes after. With this increased blood circulation comes an increase in oxygen, white blood cells (such as lymphocytes), reduction in lactic acid and an increased surface temperature. All of this allows muscles to relax, absorb nutrients and expel accumulated toxins.

Research has also shown that Gua Sha triggers the release of a hormone call heme-oxygenase-1 which is needed for internal anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory molecules to work efficiently. With further investigation, this may be promising for those with conditions that result in the inflammation of smooth muscle, such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and even chronic Hepatitis B.

So what does it feel like to receive Gua Sha? It’s certainly not painful. The sensation can vary depending on the tool used and the technique of the practitioner. It may feel like a very superficial massage, or it may feel like a deeper gliding feeling across the muscle. The aim of the treatment is to produce clusters of small red spots. The petachiae will usually remain for a few days until the extravasated blood is reabsorbed by the body. It is the accumulated petachiae that brings the additional blood flow and hence the healing and systemic benefits of the treatment.

Adam, our massage therapist at Rozelle, has a special interest, researching and studying the many benefits of Gua Sha as part of his degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  He’d love to see you if you have any questions about how Gua Sha may be able to help you. 

Author: Kate Wood

Kate has represented Australia as an 800m runner, winning five Australian titles and competing on the international stage. She also lectured track & field at the Australian College of Physical Education. After being forced into an early retirement due to injury, Kate turned to helping others with their health and wellness, with a special focus on families, pre-conception, pregnancy and paediatrics.

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