Cupping has a lesser known but just as ancient cousin in Gua sha. If you do a quick internet search on Gua sha you may see the words shocking, grotesque or pseudoscience combined with angry looking images of red lines on peoples backs. Or you may find numerous claims to its benefits for facial rejuvenation showing images of baby skinned women who never seem to age. It’s either amazing or painful and no one really discusses how it works on the body. There is so much more to this ancient technique than it’s given credit for. It is highly underestimated and extremely effective in clinic treatments therefore over the years it has become one of my favorite modalities to use.
Gua sha is also known as coining, scraping or spooning. It involves using a solid tool with a smooth round edge on an oiled portion of the body to perform unidirectional pressing along the tissues. Prior to the treatment an assessment is done and then areas of the body related to the chief concern are palpated. During the palpation areas of tightness, trigger points or blanching are noted. Blanching refers to how quickly blood and energy return to an area after it is pressed with the fingers. In TCM when there is an area of increased blanching (increased time for blood to flow back to an area after palpation) there is an area of stagnation or decreased energy flow. These areas of stagnation are where pain occurs relating to the traditional Chinese saying of “Bu tong ze: tong; tong ze: bu tong.” Now try saying that 10 times fast!! The translation of this saying means “no free flow: pain; free flow: no pain.” So, if there is free flow of blood/energy (qi) in the body then there is no pain. The objective then is to use techniques like Gua sha to allow the blood/energy of the body to return to its normal state of flow.
When discussing Gua sha in terms of eastern concepts it is said to release the exterior, remove heat, tonify blood and dispel stagnation. The reddish marks that are raised during a treatment are termed sha, and the color of the sha along with how and where they appear on the body are telling as to what is happening internally. Now if we flip that and look at it from a western viewpoint, we say that the marks are petechiae. Petechiae are formed when there is movement of blood outside of its normal vessel. In some cases, this occurs from tissue damage like bruising but that is not the case with Gua sha, no tissue damage occurs. Using Gua sha to move blood in the body in an area of pain causes an increase in local blood flow, helps prevent inflammation in your circulatory system, stimulates the immune system and reduces pain. It works locally and also affects a greater area of the body through the fascial system.
The reasons Gua sha can be used are varied. Each client is assessed to determine if they would benefit from it. In my personal practice I have used Gua sha for headaches, migraines, concussions, neck pain, whip lash, shoulder injuries, scar tissue from surgery, back pain, menstrual cramps, allergies, colds, flu, coughs, tennis elbow, golfers elbow, carpal tunnel, digestive issues such as bloating and cramps, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, shin splints and IT band syndrome. And I feel like I am only scraping the surface of what it can be used for! So, if your interest has been peaked and you are curious to try this ancient modality yourself let me know. I would love to help you add this into your selfcare routine.