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What is gua sha?

Acupuncture, yoga and cupping are increasingly seen in the media and gaining popularity as a holistic treatment method for pain reduction. I want to introduce you to gua sha. Gua sha is a traditional Chinese treatment — whose name roughly translates to “scraping bruises” — and involves using a smooth spoon-like instrument to break up restricted muscles. This method often creates bruising on the skin. The most constricted muscles turn the deepest red during scraping. The treatment’s been used by Asian acupuncturists since at least 220 CE, but it’s recently been gaining popularity in the West.

You might be wondering why someone would voluntarily choose to scrape up their skin. Let us explain.

Gua sha releases unhealthy elements and stimulates blood flow in the soft tissue. By creating a deliberate injury above and below the skin, the body jump-starts itself into healing. This produces immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory effects that can last for days following a single treatment. Gua sha for pain relief and stiffness is most commonly used, but it can also address conditions such as asthma, fever, chills, colds, and spasms.

During the treatment, a lubricating medium, such as massage oil, is applied to the area being treated. The acupuncturist then uses the instrument to apply a variation of long and short strokes to the skin. Treatment typically lasts for about 30 minutes and, for some, can be a bit uncomfortable. Following therapy, the treated skin will look red and bruised, and possibly show some welting. This should subside after just a few days, during which time issues such as muscle pain and poor circulation should rapidly improve.

One study published in a 2011 issue of Pain Medicine found that those who suffered from neck pain felt significant improvement after one treatment with gua sha, compared to the use of a thermal heating pad. Similar studies have been conducted at Harvard University and by teaching faculty at the Beth Israel Medical Center.

As with any treatment of this nature, it’s important to first meet with a qualified acupuncturist to determine your individual needs. If you’re found to be a good candidate for the therapy, your acupuncturist will create a plan specifically for you. Schedule an acupuncture appointment today!

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