To help strength athletes recuperate, there are a lot of methods that can be availed of. Aside from the typical good adequate sleep and a healthy diet, techniques are available that should include soft tissue massage. Thanks to popular websites such as Instagram, ancient techniques are now being reintroduced in the conditioning and strength world. Two of these techniques, Gua Sha and cupping, are Chinese healing arts that have been Westernized and practiced in Europe and the US.

Most of us have seen pictures of athletes with round purple spots that look like bruises across their bodies. These spots are the product of Gua Sha therapy, a branch of a medicinal system known as traditional Chinese medicine in Bellingham. It entails the soft scraping of soft tissue through the use of a scraping instrument for recuperations purposes.

Does Gua Sha therapy produce healing benefits?

Certified chiropractor Dr. Kenneth Brown, who’s also the owner of Hypertrophy Mechanics Practice was asked whether Gua Sha has real health benefits for strength athletes. He said, “Gua Sha is indeed an ideal form of therapy for strength athletes since it allows a practitioner to break down efficiently fascial constraints in order to bring about healing. Gua Sha therapy is designed to produce very small traumas at the injured tissue to facilitate healing.”

Dr. Brown added, “This healing method may appear novel to most lifters, but it’s actually been practiced for thousands of years. It’s a new therapy in relation to the Western rehabilitation/fitness industry. People are now using their own Gua Sha instruments and profiting from those tools.”

Doe Gua Sha Provide Benefits to Strength Athletes?

According to Dr. Brown, “When one looks at any form of soft tissue manipulation or treatment, they look at two aspects where it can be beneficial, the first window would be real therapeutic advantages, so there is relief of pain, increase of performance, and better movement. These things occur during the pre-training routine, and thus if a person is seeking solutions to something like a mobility problem, then this could be a way to increase their mobility.”

“The second is a bit intriguing, and it involves the role of Gua Sha therapy in the recuperation of a strength athlete. I seldom now use Gua Sha; nonetheless, it’s a very good way to work on the larger musculature. Methods such as the soft tissue manual manipulation therapy and Active Release Technique (ART) are difficult to go through something as thick and big as the quad. Gua Sha gives you the ability to utilize an instrument that literally activates the muscle and the dermatome over that muscle. By using broader strokes, this is something one can gain immediate results with,” says Dr. Brown.

Dr. Brown adds, “In order to derive benefits, healing needs to occur post therapy. The healing period may take a while until the slight bruising has subsided or it may take at least a couple of days between sessions of Gua Sha therapy. “A tissue that’s constantly damaged without allowing it to heal will eventually damage the tissue and result in further injury or complications.”

Can Gua Sha Benefit Only Certain Strength Athletes?

Strength athletes can use Gua Sha for recuperation and pre-workout purposes. I was wondering whether some strength athletes do benefit with Gua Sha more than the other modalities. Dr. Brown says, “I don’t think so, I believe that each person responds to certain therapies in their own ways. You should know what therapy works best on you.”

Dr. Brown explains that whether one’s specialty is endurance work or heavy lifting, either way, they can benefit from Gua Sha. “Grip strength problems are usually the issues heavy lifters encounter caused by the static pressure their hands/forearms are subjected to. For strength athletes, the problem is in surviving mechanical endurance workouts that cause fatigue which ultimately result in poor biomechanics. This may generate a gamut of biomechanical stressors which can lead to the aforementioned problems.”

Is Gua Sha A Safe Healing Technique for Strength Athletes?

The purplish bruise-like spots you see on athletes who have received Gua Sha may look painful. I asked Dr. Brown if the side effects of Gua Sha that elicit these marks is normal during therapy.

He said that there’s debate going on in the healthcare world that could make Gua Sha a problem for some. According to Dr. Brown, “Practitioners who are not licensed are illegally administering Gua Sha on clients and athletes. If you’re not licensed to practice this therapy, then you should not practice it because it’s completely illegal and may lead to negative unexpected consequences.”

Are The Purplish Spots Side Effects of Gua Sha?

Dr. Brown said that the spots are side effects of Gua Sha and it is quite normal for people who have undergone the procedure. “During a therapy session, there may be some discomfort felt although this should dissipate within a few days. Many patients may experience slight bruising. This heals on its own and is normal in this therapy.”

Dr. Brown indicated that several bruising is not good for this type of treatment. “Many people aren’t trained in the use of Gua Sha’s instruments. Thousands of years ago, the Chinese people would literally scrape to the point of damaging the tissue causing blood to ooze out of the site of treatment. They believed that the bruising directly brought about systemic recovery.”

“Studies have shown that Gua Sha therapy is not a mechanical procedure. You have a serious problem if you’re bruising after being treated with Gua Sha. This is a therapy that should not traumatize the tissue.”

Dr. Brown explains, “If the outcome is you ending purple all across the body, then that’s not what the therapy is supposed to do. Since we’re attempting to elicit a neurological response, softer is usually better. There should be no realignment of sarcomeres and no breaking of scar tissue from the procedure.”

Gua Sha Therapy Benefits

The genuine health advantages of Gua Sha mostly affects the soft tissue therapy. Brown says, “A neurological change happens from the sensory feedback from the instrument scraping your dermatomal configuration. There are nerve roots coming out to the skin, and they are responsible for sensory feedback on the underlying tissues and the skin. All that Gua Sha really does is to plow over the areas that are connected to the nerve roots and the dermatomes to elicit a recovered and relaxed parasympathetic reaction from the underlying tissue.”

Dr. Brown also explained the false view people have with Gua Sha. “Gua Sha therapy does not break up scar tissue, which most wrongly people believe. For instance, the skin has several layers that include the adipose, cutaneous tissue, and subcutaneous tissue, and then there is the stomach muscle. Actually, you’re just a few inches away from the thing you think you’re breaking up scar tissue on.”

Gua Sha is a multi-millennial form of treatment that has recently become quite popular in the field of fitness and health. As with the other kinds of soft tissue treatment, it can have some risks when practiced. However, these risks are usually due to lack of knowledge and experience in using the therapy appropriately.

Make sure you find a licensed qualified practitioner who knows how to use any type of instrument-assisted modality.