Gua Sha, like fire cupping,  is one of several invaluable adjunct techniques that I utilize in my Amma Therapy practice. Sometimes called ‘frictioning’ or ‘scraping’ the technique appears in nearly every culture and is marvelous for releasing pain and stagnation or helping to boost the immune system.

Once, when walking down to the pool to swim, I realized that people were stopping to stare. There were gasps, questioning and concerned looks. Right. I’d forgotten that I’d had a strong gua sha treatment a day before and the rash was still visible down my neck and back. It left people wondering, except the elderly Asian lady who pointed at my back with recognition and asked if I felt better.  I did, in fact I felt wonderful.  Okay, it looks painful, leaving a bright rash and, honestly, it’s not fantastically comfortable while being administered but the pain release and opening leaves most clients requesting it on their next visit.
What is Gua Sha?
Based on the theories of ‘counteraction,’ Gua sha or frictioning uses a smooth edged tool to scrape the skin intentionally bringing up a rash to release pathogens and pain.  There are beautiful tools of bone, jade or other precious materials  made especially for gua sha,  however  my pragmatic side favors the $2 porcelain Chinese soup spoon that I can get from World Market and that fits perfectly in my hand.

Hippocrates identified 4 types of frictioning and their specific healing benefits stating, “It has the power of loosening, binding, augment and diminishing.” Huh, what does that mean?

Soft frictioning–Uses light quick strokes to loosen the flesh. This technique may not bring up strong rash and clears quickly. It is used for those who are very weak or in areas that can’t handle great depth or where you don’t want a rash to show up such as the face. Yeah, really, a little gua sha can release TMJ and tight jaw muscles.  Yes, we can apply gua sha to the jaw.

Moderate frictioning–Uses medium pressure and frequency of strokes to increase the flesh. Used for overall pain and to fight off colds and flu.

Hard frictioning–Uses deeper quicker strokes to strengthen the flesh. Used for overall and chronic deep pain and to fight off colds and flu.

Prolonged–Uses longer, slowly to break up thick congestion or thin the flesh such as thick scar tissues.

What does gua sha treat?
All frictioning generates heat and releases exterior invasions or the 6 Evils. Many Asian cultures use Gua Sha extensively at the onset of a cold or are ‘coming down’ with something. Gua sha also release deep stagnation and pain.

Pain–anywhere–Doesn’t really matter what caused the pain, if it old or new, Gua sha can help to effectively release pain. Gua sha can also be used over joints and in areas where fire cups may not adhere. So long as the client approves and there are no contraindications (see below) gua sha can be used. Gua sha is useful for carpal tunnel, neck and shoulder tightness and pain, TMJ, joint pain, back pain–really–pain anywhere.

Colds and Flu–Gua sha is fabulous at rallying the ‘Wei Qi’ (Defensive Qi) to the surface. Read more about exterior invasions.

Stagnation–Injuries, scars, knotted muscles all cause the Qi to stagnate or stop, which can mean pain or decreased circulation.

The rash tells all–Where the rash appears, how quickly or slowly it rises, and the color are all indicators and assessment tools. A bright red rash indicates a lot of superficial heat, a deep purple rash long standing stagnation. The rash will literally flash up and start to lead the way guiding the treatment. How quickly the rash disappears indicates how good the client’s healthy or lacking circulation.
Contraindications–As with any treatment there are some rules. Gua sha is not appropriate for:
Children–Although many Asian cultures use it on children, as a general rule the American culture is not open to seeing red rashes on children.

  • Elderly or those with very fragile or brittle skin
  • Sunburns or other burns
  • Eczema or rashes, warts and other raised skin patterns
  • Over moles
  • Lesions or cuts
  • Bruises–including previous gua sha…if the rash from a prior treatment is still showing, we don’t gua sha over that area until the rash has disappeared.
  • Open wounds
  • Pregnant women’s abdomen or ‘forbidden’ points

Client consent–Because gua sha usually leaves a rash, the therapy should not be administered without client understanding and clear consent. Gua sha is not reapplied until after the sha rash or petechiae has vanished.

Try it some time.
Be well,
April