Gua Sha Uncovered
What is it?
Gua Sha, pronounced ‘Gwah Shah’, is an East Asian therapeutic healing technique that has been widely practised in China for thousands of years.
It involves using a round-edged tool (traditionally made of materials such as jade or metal) to press-stroke the skin until redness appears – hence the name. ‘Gua’ means to scrape or rub, whilst ‘Sha’ describes the redness that results.Stress creates toxicity in the body which manifests in the muscle fibres and connective tissue under the skin. The Chinese solution to this problem is a body work technique called Tui Na, of which Gua Sha is a derivative.
The brilliance of Gua Sha is that it pulls the toxicity out through the tips of the permeable capillaries, breaking only the very top one-cell layer and without damaging it, something which no other treatment can do.
We associate redness with bruising and pain in the West, but it’s actually really healing and satisfying once you get the hang of it. Press-stroking the skin in this manner is completely harmless. Most people feel a sense of weightlessness, pain relief, greater energy and many even report feeling ‘lighter’ after a treatment session.
With facial Gua Sha, start lightly to create a soft redness that will fade immediately. If you go heavier you will get a deeper redness called Sha coming up. This is also healthy, reveals the deeper held tension and will disappear overnight.
Gua Sha is not just a method to turn to when in pain. The position, colour and form of the Sha can vary according to the area, degree and nature of a health problem in the body. For this reason, Gua Sha can be an indicator of what’s going on internally. For example:
Red – a recent invasion of external disease
Dark red – heat, inflammation or acidity in the local area
Purple or very dark red – long-standing stagnation and damaged tissue.
Darker skin tones will show less sha than lighter skin tones; it will still be there, just harder to see. The sha will vary from light brown to almost black, depending on the level of toxicity to be pulled out.
What are the benefits?
Gua Sha is scientifically proven to manage the stress-response and increase micro-circulation
- Relaxes tight muscles and clears tension for an instant pick me up
- Promotes lymphatic drainage to reduce toxins
- Promotes better sleep and a relaxed mental state
- Addresses stress related symptoms such as headaches, anxiety and low immunity
Gua Sha would traditionally be given by family members or friends in an attempt to treat a whole range of conditions including: fever, muscle pain, musculoskeletal problems, inflammation, residue elimination, chronic coughs, sinusitis, diarrhoea and migraines. It is excellent for chronic neck pain, an incredibly common complaint that increases with age.
But Gua Sha is not only good for treating disease – it also helps to prevent it. By regularly clearing toxins from the body (particularly the joints, back, neck and shoulders) external pathogens are prevented from finding a foothold. Gua Sha will maintain and strengthen your constitution, improve your circulation and boost your health and longevity. Sounds good, right?
Gua Sha for detoxification
Bit by bit and day by day, negative emotions, waste material, pollution and toxins settle and accumulate in the body. These toxins then exit the body in a variety of ways. Sometimes they evaporate through the skin, at other times they exit as pimples, rashes, boils and sweat. They are also eliminated via the lungs, liver, kidneys and large intestine.
Toxins are easier to reach and break down once they are near to the skin. And the longer you work on the skin, the easier it will be to work more deeply later as the skin is a storage space for whatever extra toxicity the organs have. Once cleared of toxicity, the skin will recover its balance.
How to do it
We recommend using only our custom-made tools for Gua Sha, lubricated with our Treat-rite oils, which have been formulated with the correct balance of essential oils for maximum efficacy.
Historically, anything with a defined edge was used for treatment, from spoons to copper coins, but our Restorers have been developed ergonomically to maximise efficacy of treatment.
We have detailed instructions and videos on how to Gua Sha here:
Our Gua Sha Restorers and de-stress rituals are designed for self-treatment. However, if you have a willing partner, there is no harm in getting them to treat you or vice versa! Just make sure that the recipient adopts a comfortable body position with relaxed muscles. The angle between the tool and the skin should be less than 45 degrees and rigid pressing should be avoided.
When you first start to treat yourself with Gua Sha, build up slowly. The most common problem is working too vigorously over an area that isn’t accustomed to the treatment, which may cause bruising to appear (as I’ve done many times myself). In this case, wait for the bruising to clear before you resume, this time with less pressure. The sha that you are creating is in essence a light bruise anyway – a bruise is burst blood from the capillaries. Remember, with this treatment you burst the very top cell at the tip of each capillary, which causes the red dots. It’s not a bad thing but a sign of healing, and always disappears within a few days.
Immediately after Gua Sha it is best not to bathe or leave the skin open to the wind or cold for a good hour.
Gua Sha research
Western science is catching up with Eastern wisdom on the enormous benefits of Gua Sha. There are a multitude of studies since the end of the 20th century researching the impact of Gua Sha, both on its own and as part of other treatment modalities. It has come out with flying colours in treatment of pain, fevers, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, neck pain and mastitis.
When I do Gua Sha on patients, it feels like taking off a corset. It's like the whole of the area relaxes and the tension just melts away. Patients report an immediate and lasting improvement in pain, tension and limitation of movement. That in turn improves mobility, sleep and their general happiness factor because they feel more balanced and pain free.
Here’s what some of the research studies have revealed:
For example, a study done in Germany using Doppler imaging (which maps temperature changes on the skin), found a 400% increase in the surface circulation of blood 7.5 minutes after a Gua Sha treatment. Not only that; a significant increase in temperature was recorded for 25 minutes following treatment.
Every subject also experienced a decrease or complete resolution in pain with an increased sense of well-being. The 400% increase in the circulation of blood meant that the delivery of nutrients and oxygen, along with the extrusion of waste and toxins, were occurring at four times the usual speed.
A study done at Harvard University used bioluminescent imaging with a mouse. It showed that Gua Sha up-regulated the gene expression for an enzyme that is both cyto-protective and an antioxidant. This happened at multiple internal organ sites immediately after the treatment and over a period of days following. This explains why Gua Sha has been found to reduce fever and alter the course of an acute infectious illness, and why it can reduce inflammatory symptoms in chronic illness. And it’s why the treatment is used in China to treat symptoms of acute and chronic hepatitis – a condition where the liver is infected and inflamed.
In a medical centre in Taiwan, Gua Sha therapy in the treatment of breast engorgement was tested against hot packs and massage in a randomised, controlled trial. The study was conducted to evaluate the effects of the two therapies among post-partum women with breast engorgement. This common problem, where there is swelling and distention of the breasts, can affect the initiation and duration of breast-feeding. The study found that Gua Sha therapy can improve breast temperature, engorgement, pain and discomfort at both five minutes and 30 minutes after intervention. Gua Sha was concluded to be the superior therapy to conventional heat therapy and it was found that it could even be used whilst the baby was feeding.
Another study conducted in Germany focused on the effectiveness of Gua Sha in the symptomatic treatment of chronic neck pain. This was a randomised, controlled trial where patients were tested against a group who were treated with thermal heat pads. The results were that neck pain severity after one week improved significantly better in the Gua Sha group compared with the heat pad group, and that the Gua Sha treatment was safe and well tolerated. It was concluded that Gua Sha has beneficial short-term effects on patients with chronic neck pain.
As Gua Sha can be such a strong releasing tool, both for external and internal causes of disease, treatment may provoke a strong emotional reaction. Please make sure you self-treat, or are treated, at a time of the day when you can rest afterwards.
No therapy can cure all illnesses and Gua Sha is no exception. Critically ill patients and those with life-threatening diseases should be in the care of their doctor. If you feel fatigued, have just sweated or bled profusely, or have liver or kidney failure, you should not treat yourself in this way. Gua Sha cannot be used for unhealed bone fractures, malignant tumours or on the abdomen if you are pregnant or have your period.
Gua Sha should not be performed over broken skin, varicose veins, moles, cuts or bruises.