Gua sha is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and used within South Asian communities. The initial red colouring looks dramatic though and unfortunately in the West is wrongly interpreted as abuse or bruising. There was even a film made about this in 2001; it shows western cultural ignorance of the practice. The film tells the story of Chinese immigrants in America using Gua sha to treat their child and the father being wrongly accused of abuse. Watch the full film on You Tube
The press stroking used in Gua sha is done in a particular way and the direction of force on the underlying tissue (fascia) has been found to induce nitric oxide formation. As this is circulated in the blood stream it causes smooth muscle relaxation and vasodilation (Findley 2009; Hockling et al 2008). It also regulates platelet function, reduces inflammation (less irritation of nerves) and thus reduces pain (Mackenzie et al. 2008).
For the science nerds among you there is a free video which explains the science behind this technique: www.prodseminars.com/guasha (you do have to sign-up to gain access).
There are nearly 600 research studies in China on Gua sha, which show the breadth of conditions for which it is used. We are only now starting to see peer reviewed randomised controlled trials in the West starting to happen (neck and back pain and mastitis) – see below.
Gua sha for neck pain Braun M, Schwickert M, Nielsen A et al. Effectiveness of Traditional Chinese, “Gua Sha” Therapy in Patients with Chronic Neck Pain; A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pain Med. 2011 January 28.
Gua sha for neck and back pain Lauche R, Wübbeling K, Lüdtke R et al. Randomized controlled pilot study: Pain intensity and pressure pain thresholds in patients with neck and low back pain before and after traditional East Asian ‘Gua sha’ therapy. Am J Chinese Med. 2013;in press
Mastitis breast engorgement Chiu J-Y, Gau M-L, Kuo S-Y, Chang Y-H, Kuo S-C, Tu H-C. Effects of Gua-Sha therapy on breast engorgement: a randomized controlled trial. J Nurs Res. 2010;18(1) (March):1-10.
In the case of chronic conditions, such as asthma, autoimmune and endocrine conditions, sessions after the initial resolution of any crisis are usually monthly or every two weeks. This ensures a protective effect.