An Overview of Gua Sha Massage

Gua Sha, as a form of healing was a technique first developed in China around two thousand years ago and is believed to be able to heal any kind of ailment. Although originating in China, it has been widely practiced in other eastern and also western countries along with acupuncture and other forms of traditional oriental medicine. It is a favored technique of healing because it is absolutely safe and does not involve the intake of oral medication. Gua Sha is an external treatment technique and is also called coining, scraping or spooning. While many modern day clinics offer Gua sha, it can also be performed at home and can cure a wide range of ailments.

Pro Tip: The actual tools used in gua sha are very affordable for a set of horn tools or a jade tool such as the one pictured above.

Historical Usage

Gua Sha is based on the traditional Chinese premise of treating the meridians of the body to remove the obstructions in the free movement of “qi” or “chi.” The chi or the life force of the body travels through the channels or the meridians and illnesses are caused when this movement is hampered. By deeply massaging the skin, Gua Sha works to remove the bad chi in the tissues and improve the movement of good chi, thus curing ailments.

The Chinese term Gua Sha is derived from Gua which means “to scrape off” and Sha which means “millet grain like red rash.” In Laos, Gua Sha is called Khoud Lam while in Indonesia, practitioners call it Kerik. Healers in Vietnam call it Cao Yino.

Gua Sha Tools Used

To perform Gua Sha, practitioners use a range of tools such as a Chinese soup spoon, a smooth coin or other tools carved out of stone, jade, porcelain, water buffalo horn, or cow bones. Sometimes a slice of ginger can also suffice. Healers working from home might also use a basic metal cap with smooth edges.

Whatever instrument is used, it must not be sharp or it can cause breaks in the skin. Further, it must not be too blunt so as to cause pain. Adequate amount of lubrication is also needed so that the instrument moves easily over the skin. Accordingly, medicated oils, balms, pain relieving oils, or coconut oil can be applied to achieve the desired lubrication.

How it is Performed

The healer first applies oils the skin and then using the appropriate instrument as described above, applies pressure and moves it downwards in a single direction on the specific areas of the skin. These areas might correspond to the meridians or holographic points of the patient’s body.

Repeated movements cause bleeding from the capillaries under the skin and thus reddening or blemishes appear in the subcutaneous sections of the skin. These are called “Sha” and can last for several days and can be either red or purple in color.

Once the Sha appears, the healers moves to the adjacent section and begins treatment in a similar way. This procedure is repeated until the entire area to be treated is covered. Each vertical section covered is typically 4 to 6 inches long and usually 8 to 12 strokes are needed to achieve the sha needed.

The strokes are performed in a single direction only and care is taken to ensure that there is no pain or discomfort. The reddening is similar to that observed after a cupping session but is spread over a wider section of the skin where the treatment is performed. While Gua does mean scraping or scratching, there is no breaking or abrading of the skin and each session takes about 5 to 10 minutes.

How Gua Sha Works

Gua Sha massage works to restore the free movement of chi and the sha that is observed after a session is the stagnated chi or body fluids that are pulled up from the deeper tissues to the surface of the skin.

The sha can sometimes also be purple and green in color aside from red and blue and by studying the color of the rash, the healer can gauge how serious the illness is and the effectiveness of the treatment.

If the spots do not fade within 2 to 7 days, it indicates that the ailment is severe but if the spots do not appear, it could mean that the patient is anaemic and does not have adequate blood in the body.

How Gua Sha Helps

Gua Sha can help alleviate stress in the muscles and promote better circulation of body fluids. In this way, the metabolism in the patient’s body is improved as is its resistance to disease. The patient is not only cured of ailments but is revitalized and can fight future infections better. The treatment helps to relieve pain and other symptoms caused by illnesses without the need for any kind of medication.

Modern day studies have shown that Gua Sha can increase blood circulation by 400 percent and these effects can remain for up to 25 minutes after the session is completed. Further, the patients noted a relief in the pain and a complete sensation of well-being.

Illnesses it Targets

Gua Sha treatments can help cure a number of ailments including those caused by viruses, inflammations and other long-term illnesses. They are:

  • Skeleto-muscular problems such as muscle strains, neck pain, knee pain, headaches, back pain, shoulder pain in cases of frozen shoulder, sciatica and joint pains.
  • Feminine problems including those related to menstruation, uterine conditions, mastitis, and inadequate lactation.
  • Heart disease and hypertension.
  • Respiratory infections, bronchitis, pneumonia and ear aches in kids
  • Migraines
  • Asthma and wheezing, reduced by removing the swelling caused by allergy causing agents.
  • Skin diseases including acne
  • Blood disorders
  • Tumors
  • Insomnia
  • Problems related to the internal organs such as swelling of the liver in hepatitis C and B
  • Other problems like fevers, flu, cough, cold, nausea, dizziness, vomiting.
  • Pain caused in the facial muscles.
  • Nerve pains caused by shingles as a result of chickenpox
  • Abdominal pain
  • Conjunctivitis and styes
  • Diarrhea in babies
  • Ulcers and hemorrhoids
  • Heatstroke
  • Anemia, promotes the formation of blood

Gua sha and Modern Medicine

In today’s times, Gua Sha is widely practiced by licensed healers that also perform other techniques like acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy and other treatments that need a hands-on approach.

Studies have shown that when the sha is broken down and reabsorbed into the body, certain chemicals are released that can reduce inflammation in the body and activate the body’s defence mechanism.


Although Gua Sha is a very safe form of treatment, precautions must be taken and certain areas of the skin cannot be treated, such as:

  • Broken, scratched or burned skin
  • Fractures
  • Injuries and contusions
  • Genitalia
  • Moles and pimples
  • Pregnant women
  • Patients taking medication for blood thinning

If healing must be performed, practitioners work on the adjacent sections of the skin to promote healing of the injury. Post treatment, patients must have a healthy, light diet and avoid strenuous activities such as sports and sex.

The Practice of Chinese Medicine – What is Gua Sha?

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