Practitioners apply Gua Sha therapy in West Orange by rubbing across the surface of the skin a smooth-edged instrument where an imbalance or a subcutaneous injury has occurred. A sha, which is a distinct efficacious reddening of the skin, develops when there is a positive response. This brings prompt and lasting benefits to the body that includes pain relief from the upper and deeper levels of the body, dispelling of coldness and wind, and a decrease of inflammation and heat.

Gua sha works ideally for various acute and chronic health problems including heat exhaustion, fibromyalgia, joint pain, injury, dizziness, indigestion, headache, fever, flu, and colds. It is sought by some as a way to alleviate fatigue and tiredness and soothe aching and tensed muscles. Gua sha therapists perform a stroking action to the acupuncture channels (meridians) and points as a way to enhance health. It is oftentimes performed through light clothing (without any intent of elevating sha).

What does Gua Sha mean?

In the US, Canada, and UK, gua sha therapy is sometimes referred to as “scraping,” “coining,” or “spooning. However, all these labels do not accurately describe the meaning of gua sha in the Chinese language. There are two characters that comprise gua sha. Gua, the first character, translates to scrape or rub, and sha, the second character is so named due to the peculiar type of discoloration and red dotting that develops at the surface of the skin during and after treatment. Therefore, Gua sha means to rub out sha.

In the rural areas of China, Gua sha is known as gua feng which means to “grate out the wind”. In Vietnam gua sha is referred to as cao gio which also means “to scrape or grate out wind”. These Chinese and Vietnamese names for gua sha are fascinating since it stipulates the underlying cause of the problem being resolved: wind, which, in traditional or rural communities, is usually the culprit for just about every kind of common sickness.

History of Gua Sha

As with several medical traditions, gua sha was believed to be used as a type of folk medicine way long before its first written recording, which researchers estimate is around 220 CE in China. Some historians believe it was discovered during prehistoric times when someone repeatedly rubbed a painful body part against a stone protruding out from a cave wall and remarked that along with the reduction of their pain, a distinctive type of color also arose on their skin.

Throughout Asia, especially in rural areas of Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and China, gua sha is widely performed. During the mid to the end of the 1970’s, the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia strictly prohibited the practice of all Western medical treatments and traditional medical treatments, including all Chinese medical techniques, except for gua sha. People caught performing any treatment apart from gua sha were either sent to prison or executed.

Although experienced practitioners have been able to devise a wide range of uses for gua sha therapy, it is seen by most people as a first-aid or preventative measure for a lot of common health issues. Gua sha is mostly utilized as a folk healing domestic technique. At home, both parents and sometimes even a grandparent know how to practice it.

Knowledge of the treatment has been handed from generation to generation through oral and visual tradition, not from knowledge gained in reading books. Its practice is applicable for and can be performed by both genders. In Asia, women mostly perform this practice since they traditionally play the role of caregivers in that part of the world. Because it is an inexpensive, effective, and safe healing therapy, gua sha is promoted by the Chinese Government in the broad social setting, in recent times.
However, gua sha is not exclusively practiced in Asia. In some European countries, like Greece, this therapy is also used as a medical procedure mostly, by elder practitioners.

The discoloration and the associated Sha also include the pathogenic elements that contribute to the blockage, and when this blockage has been cleared, the problematic area of the body starts to get well.

What is Sha?

Sha refers to the small reddish spots that appear from the deeper or superficial layers of the body to the surface of the skin during gua sha therapy. In Western medicine, dermatologists call sha as petichiae, and they only see it as a pathologic irregularity. In Western conventional medicine, bruising or ecchymosis, a type of redness pattern which is more dispersed, also develops, and is also considered only as irregular or abnormal.

However, practitioners are happy to see these discolorations appear in the skin of their patients as they are proof that the treatment has been effective. In gua sha, as in cupping therapy, we are forced to change our usual way of thinking about “irregular/abnormal markings” and see it as positive, far from being seen as “bruising.” In Eastern and Western medicine, these marks (that appear in gua sha and cupping therapy) are seen in completely contrasting ways. In the Western medical perspective, sha is not seen as the same body peculiarity as that in the East. The basis for what generates sha is hence best understood in how it is explained in traditional medical terms.

In TCM or traditional Chinese medicine, sha comes about when the normal circulation of blood and qi is blocked or becomes stagnant. This may be due to internal pathogenic elements or harmful climatic factors such as wind or an invasion of traumatic injury. The Chinese have a famous medical saying which states, “Where there is obstruction of blood and qi, there is also pain.”

By nature, blood and Qi are both warm, so when they become compressed, which what occurs during stagnation or blockage, heat appears and builds up into a new substance – sha. Sha as well as the related discoloration is also accompanied by pathogenic element(s) that contribute to the blockage, and when this blockage has been cleared, the smooth flow of blood and Qi is restored in that area which leads to the treatment of the health problem.

In musculoskeletal problems, a lot of people who are familiar with gua sha often consider it as their first-line of treatment, with the belief that eliminating the sha out of the body will also eliminate the adverse toxins that block and generate pain.

From a traditional well-informed point of view, massaging the part that’s meant for gua sha treatment is essential in order to break up any large build up of blood and qi that can generate painful knotting during therapy.