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The art of Gua Sha, or scraping therapy

Chris Parsons

Chris Parsons

Registered Acupuncturist, TCMP (Dipl.)


Monday, Dec. 2, 2019

“Scraping therapy” (or “Gua Sha” as it is called in Mandarin Chinese) is one of the most important and lesser-known treatment tools used in the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

The Gua Sha, or scraper, is a relatively simple tool that’s roughly the size of your hand. Though modern versions of the scraper are often made of plastic, the tool can also be something as simple as a coin, a bone (such as buffalo horn), a metal or ceramic spoon, a shell or a stone.

The scraper is stiff and smooth and usually has soft curves and shapes that fit different areas of the body, making it easier for the practitioner to use the tool to achieve the “Sha” or “transient petechiae”, which are red marks around the targeted area. The sensation created varies from a comfortable pressure (not unlike that of a massage) to a chaffing that can be applied to various parts of the body.

Rediscovering an ancient treatment method

Walking the streets of different countries in Asia, you may find various practitioners who have set up a booth to provide scraping therapy to passers-by. To the modern eye, this can look primitive, like a simplistic form of folk medicine or even a superstitious practice, but don’t be fooled. There’s more here than meets the eye.

Modern research has demonstrated that Gua Sha can have some unexpected and powerful health benefits. These include:

1- Pain relief

Following treatment, people often experience a marked increase in surface circulation of blood, leading to local muscle relaxation, a decrease in pain and an overall sensation of well-being.

2 – Antioxidants

Clinical trials have shown that Gua Sha stimulates the production of a newly discovered antioxidant, Heme-oxygenase-1 (HO1), which is part of the anti-inflammatory cascade.

3 – Anti-inflammation and immune protection

While it’s hard to miss the immediate flushing and red marks caused by Gua Sha, research shows that this type of treatment leads to a decrease in inflammation throughout the body. This is also due to the production of Heme-oxygenase-1, which has beneficial systemic anti-inflammatory and immune system protective effects.

4 – Liver protection

In 2011, a Harvard study showed that Gua Sha reduced liver inflammation in patients with chronic active hepatitis B, which explains why Gua Sha is often used in China to treat symptoms of acute and chronic hepatitis.

Using Gua Sha as part of a holistic treatment plan

One area of the body that’s often treated using Gua Sha is along the neck and into the upper back and shoulders. The Gua Sha has a stretching and dredging effect on the tense muscles, relieving chronic tension found in patients affected by neck pain, eye strain, headaches and more.

Stroking the Gua Sha tool down from the hairline and gradually going deeper and deeper until some red flushing of the skin is noticed creates extra blood flow, which relaxes muscle tension and releases heat or stagnant blood, providing the patient with a warm, soothing sensation.

With a little more scraping time and pressure, we often see some red dots appear. These are tiny painless bruises, or petechiae, and they are often part of the therapeutic plan.

Traditionally, Gua Sha has been used to improve conditions such as headaches, migraines, neck, shoulder, back or knee pain, as well as acute diseases such as fever, flu, earaches, asthma and bronchitis in both children and adults.

Discover Gua Sha

Modern medicine has given us new ways to understand and appreciate the undeniable benefits of Gua Sha, which has been used for approximately 2000 years. Consequently, this ancient treatment method is now being embraced and incorporated into many healing disciplines to treat a variety of ailments.

In addition to providing relief, many people report that they find Gua Sha deeply relaxing and that it contributes to their health and wellness! Next time you see your acupuncturist, ask them about adding Gua Sha scraping therapy to your treatment so that you can reap the benefits of this simple practice.

If you’d like to schedule an appointment with a Lifemark clinician, check out our Locations page to find a clinic near you or book online

Chris Parsons

Chris Parsons

Registered Acupuncturist, TCMP (Dipl.)


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