The Science of Gua Sha




What is Gua Sha?

Gua Sha is an Asian healing technique that is centuries old. Gua means to scrape or rub. Sha is a reddish, elevated, skin rash (also known as petechiae).

Sha indicates Blood stasis (poor circulation) in the subcutaneous tissue.

Gua Sha is a technique that intentionally produces petechiae.

It is commonly used for pain in areas where there is abnormal circulation.

When normal finger pressure on a  skin causes blanching that is slow to fade, this can indicate areas of poor circulation.

In addition to resolving musculoskeletal pain, Gua Sha is used to treat as well as prevent certain common conditions, such as: cold, flu, bronchitis, asthma, as well as many other chronic disorders.

How is Gua Sha done?

The area to be treated is lubricated with oil (I use Vicks) and then the skin is rubbed or scraped with a round-edged instrument in downward strokes. An area is stroked until the petechiae that surface are completely raised. If there is no Blood stasis, the petechiae will not form and the skin will only turn pink.

The petechiae usually fade in 2-4 days, but if one has poor Blood circulation, it may take longer.

The Benefits of Gua Sha

In most cases, the patient feels an immediate shift in their condition, particularly in their pain and range of motion.

Gua Sha promotes circulation and normalizes metabolic processes. It is a valuable treatment for both musculoskeletal and internal pain, and facilitates the resolution of both acute and chronic disorders.

Is Gua Sha Safe?

Gua Sha is a completely safe technique. After treatment precautions should include resting and gently moving the area to facilitate more circulation. Movement can be slowly increased based on tolerance. Contrast therapy with hot and cold as well as topical liniments can be used in conjunction.

Contraindications and precautions can include: Pregnancy, infection, some skin diseases and certain active inflammatory joint problems.

The Science of Gua Sha

A review of online data bases showed over 500 studies on Gua Sha as of 2011.

Arya Nielsen, PhD, an expert on Gua Sha , in her dissertation on “The Science of Gua Sha,”  found a 400% initial increase in surface circulation following Gua Sha. These changes gradually returned to normal after two days. Patients reported a decrease or complete resolution of pain and a sense of wellbeing.

Mechanism of Action

Gua Sha has anti-inflammatory and immune stimulating effects. A group at Harvard used imaging to show that Gua Sha upregulates gene expression for an enzyme (Heme oxygenase-1- HO1) that acts as an anti-oxidant and cell protectant. The relevance of these results demonstrates the potential of Gua Sha for inflammation, allergies and other immune conditions.  In addition, when performed on the skin overlying organs, these sites have shown a reduction in inflammation for internal organ problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and hepatitis to name a few.

Evidence for other Conditions Responsive to Gua Sha

Chinese data bases show an array of conditions responsive to Gua Sha. The list includes:

  • Headaches
  • Neck, shoulder, back and knee pain
  • Fever, flu, earaches and bronchitis (cough)
  • Post-herpetic neuralgia
  • Mastitis
  • Gastritis

Comment/Personal experience:

Last Monday I injured my right shoulder weight lifting. My pain level was about a 7/10. On Tuesday I had Gua Sha done and my range of motion returned to normal immediately after the treatment and with significantly less pain (some soreness). On Thursday, I lifted again with minimal pain during and none after.

This is an extremely effective technique for sports injuries.




About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin