Gua Sha Therapy For Recurrent Joint Or Muscle, Shoulder, Neck, Or Back Pain

If you still haven’t heard about gua sha therapy, it is a hands-on drug-free therapy that is definitely worth knowing especially if you suffer from recurrent joint or muscle pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, or back pain.

Gua sha is an ancient Chinese healing technique that is usually administered by an acupuncturist although it does not involve the use of needles. The therapist instead uses a handheld round-edged, device and uses it in a “press-stroke” motion repeatedly on the body part of the patient without injuring the skin.

The aim of the treatment is to relieve what in Chinese medicine is known as ‘blood stagnation.’ This condition is a form of constriction of the capillaries near the surface of the skin and is linked to recurrent or fixed pain, and to illness, occasionally. Enabling the movement of stagnant blood enhances circulation to the organs, tissues, and muscles right under the site of treatment. This causes the patient to experience rapid changes in mobility, stiffness, and pain.

Red blood cells are forced out of the tiny capillaries by the press-stroking motion and blood flow into the surrounding tissues. Gua sha therapy does not cause external bleeding and does not break the capillaries. However, petechiae, which are very small red spots of blood, tend to develop just below the surface of the skin, making the area appear to develop a rash. These petechiae are different from bruising. A bruise indicates traumatic damage to the tissue and it can take over a week to heal. With gua sha, the tissues are not damaged and the re-absorption of the red blood cells begins immediately. The ensuing hemoglobin breakdown (hemoglobin is the pigment that contains the oxygen in the red blood cells) boosts the reaction of a specific enzyme and of biliverdin and bilirubin bile pigments, which both stimulate the immune system and are anti-inflammatory, encouraging healing within several days.

Giving Gua Sha a Try

Gua sha is often performed on the hips, shoulders, neck, and back, although it can also be done on the other areas of the body. Occasionally, the part treated is the spot where the pain itself is felt, but other times, it is in the part that correlates with a certain energy pathway (meridian) or organ, based on the traditions of Eastern medicine.

A gua sha procedure typically runs for about 10 minutes. The therapist first palpates a body part to evaluate whether stagnation or “sha” has developed in the tissue. The part to be addressed is then lubricated with oil or other body lubricant.

The next step is the press-stroking. The Chinese traditionally use a soup spoon with a smooth edge but practitioners today often use a handheld device that looks like a metal cap with a smooth lip. In order to prevent or minimize the risk of infection to blood-borne pathogens, gua sha instruments are used only once for each patient. Some practitioners prefer to use metal caps that are easily disposed of after a single use, instead of the out-of-date bone, stone, jade, coin, or spoon tool. Press-stroked for about 6 to 10 strokes are “stroke-lines” or each specific narrow section of skin. If there is stagnation in the site of treatment, the therapy will yield tiny red petechiae, and if there is no blood stagnation in the site of treatment, the skin will just turn pink.

If the treatment is done properly, the patient will not feel pain or any hurt; in fact, the patient will actually feel invigorated. Gua sha can be used safely on children and even babies. Within a few days after treatment, the elevated red marks on the skin immediately start to change, fade, and then totally vanish. It is recommended to moderate your activity and drink lots of water after a session. After treatment for the rest of the day, the patient should also not do any work out, hard labor, feasting, fasting, sex, alcohol, or drugs. In other words, they should “chill”.

The required number of treatments will be based on the condition of the patient. There will be patients who after just a single or few sessions, will gain lasting relief. Patients suffering from chronic conditions usually require three sessions one week apart, followed by sessions every other week. The treatment cost will be based on the location of the patient and the training of the therapist. Talk to your insurance provider if they cover care provided by an acupuncturist.

A safe form of treatment, Gua sha can be used by almost everyone, although they not should be given to people who are taking anticoagulant medication or who are pregnant or suffer from diabetes. Most importantly, it should be performed by a licensed qualified practitioner who has been trained in the therapy. Most massage therapists and physical therapists have such training as do acupuncturists. If you are looking for a gua sha therapist, talk to a licensed acupuncturist in your area and ask him or her about their level of experience with the therapy. Contact your office of professional regulators, office of consumer affairs, or the state department of public health to find Cleveland acupuncturists near your area and to verify their licensure.