Scraping Massage AKA Gua Sha is an alternative form of therapy that originates from East Asia. It involves a massage tool to scrape one’s skin in order to improve the circulation of blood through the body. This was used as an ancient healing technique in China for centuries.
In China, Gua Sha is used as a form of therapy to improve one’s chi or qi (the flow of energy within one’s body) by using a massage tool to cause short or long strokes on the skin which stimulate the soft tissue on the skin to improve blood flow and circulation. This improved circulation and rush of blood reduce inflammation in tendons and joints, which scientists think may be responsible for chronic joint pains, and muscle aches.
The process of Gua Sha involves a therapist or a professional using a fine smooth-edged tool called the Gua Massage tool by pressing it on your skin and causing strokes in a repeated downward motion after oiling up the part of your skin to be massaged.
This process is mostly done on the back, arms, legs, neck, and buttocks. In some cases, it may even be applied to the face. While generally harmless and painless, this process may cause some minor bruising on your skin, so it is not recommended for people with clotting disorders or people who have had surgery, recently. The bruising from the scraping heals, usually, within a few days.
Even though this process is mostly done with a tool but the therapist can also do the massage by hand. Massage done with the massager is more effective and allows the physiotherapist to apply more pressure, however. This type of scraping massage done with the scraping massage tool is also called Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM).
Significance In Ancient Chinese Culture
Gua sha has been around for a very long time. It has been used for centuries by Chinese practitioners to treat ailments and is thought to make the body and mind stronger and more powerful.
In Chinese culture, it is believed to stimulate the flow of chi (the energy in our body). Chi is thought to get stuck in stasis due to unhealthy bodily matter stopping its flow. Gua sha releases this toxic bodily matter from tired, sore, and aching muscles. This causes chi to get released from blood stasis and flow again restoring the patient to its healthy form and improving their biological system. The flow of chi improves the immune system and stimulates oxygenated blood flow to sore and fatigued muscles, which promotes relief, metabolic cell repair, regeneration, healing, and recovery.
Fun Fact: It Can Be Used On Both, Body And Face
Gua sha is an amazing remedy that can be used to treat both the face and the body. When used on the body, more pressure is to be applied so that microcirculation gets stimulated. This wipes away muscle aches and joint pains such as chronic neck pain and it also benefits people with arthritis. There are a number of other ailments that get treated by this form of therapy including coughs and migraines.
When used on the face, it should be done gently so as to not cause skin rashes and bleeding as the skin on the face is much softer and sensitive. On your face, it triggers the healing mechanism to stimulate the collagen tissue providing you with fresher skin and a radiating glow.
Uses Of Scraping Massage
Scraping Massage is, primarily, used to relieve chronic muscle aches and joint pains in people due to its healing properties. It is used as a treatment for arthritis as well. Mainly, Gua Sha reduces and eliminates inflammation in joints and ligaments which is responsible for many other harmful joint and muscle diseases. There are many other ailments and conditions that are treated with this alternative form of medicine, as well:
1. Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a viral disease that affects the liver. It causes liver damage which may be permanent if not treated immediately. Moreover, it also causes liver inflammation. Even though there are not enough studies to make a conclusive statement, scientists have researched a bit on the effects of scraping massage on Hepatitis B and other liver-related diseases, with positive results.
Particularly, one case study followed a man with high liver enzymes that are produced due to liver inflammation. He was subjected to the treatment of gua sha. Within 48 hours, the scientists saw a decrease in his liver enzymes. This indicates that gua sha has the potential to treat and cure liver-related diseases such as Hepatitis B however further research is needed.
2. Neck Pain
Scraping massages are very beneficial for muscle and joint-related pains including chronic neck pain. They offer a complete remedy of the pain in a lesser amount of time compared to other traditional methods. Some researchers have shown that gua sha is more effective than traditional therapy for the treatment of chronic neck pain.
Similar to the previous results, scientists have found that gua sha might also be an effective remedy for headaches, including severe ones i.e migraines.
One case study had a 14-day period in which a patient with chronic migraine headaches was treated to gua sha. After 14 days, the patient reported a significant decrease in their headaches and migraines, suggesting that this ancient Chinese healing method may be a cure for migraines and chronic headaches.
4. Breast Fullness
Breast fullness is a condition that is experienced by many breastfeeding women around the world. What happens is that milk gets overfilled into the breasts. This causes pain and a lot of discomfort for the woman. This happens, typically, in the first few weeks of breastfeeding or when the mother is away from the child, causing the milk to accumulate and overfill. This condition makes it difficult for the baby to latch onto the breast and also causes pain to the mother. It is also called breast engorgement.
One case study had women treated to gua sha from their second day after childbirth to until their leave from the hospital. The researchers found that these women experienced much lower cases of breast fullness after birth. The women who did experience breast fullness reported low and manageable discomfort and pain. This has caused scientists to conduct further research into the benefits of gua sha.
5. Perimenopausal Syndrome
The perimenopausal syndrome is a condition that affects women as they move closer to menopause. There are several symptoms including:
- hot flashes
- abnormal periods
- extreme mood swings
One clinical trial included 80 women with perimenopausal syndrome symptoms. They were divided into two groups. One group was treated to a 15-minute scraping therapy session along with the conventional therapy while the other group only had conventional therapy.
After 8 weeks, the group which was subjected to gua sha reported much lower symptoms including insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, and hot flashes compared to the other group. This has led scientists to believe that gua sha may be an effective remedy for perimenopausal syndrome and has prompted them to conduct further research.
Can Scraping Massage Cause Side Effects?
Gua sha is a natural remedy that has had an ancient pedigree for centuries in Chinese culture. It is a very prominent form of therapy in Chinese alternative medicine and has been in use for centuries. This is why it has no side effects.
However, one needs to take caution as improper technique and misuse of the tool can cause problems. Here are some things you need to be aware of:
- Although gua sha has a simple technique, the wrong technique can cause minor rashes on your skin.
- If too much force is applied, the pressure may cause capillaries on your skin to burst.
- The effects can range from bruising to bleeding.
- Major scratches and rashes may cause scarring on your skin.
- Make sure that the therapist disinfects the equipment before use.
- This can save you from many potential bloodborne diseases.
- Gua sha may cause slight indentation that is totally harmless and fades away soon.
Can Scraping Massage Cause Pain?
Gua sha is not painful if done correctly. At best, it causes minor discomfort as the massage deliberately causes slight bruising on your skin. However, caution needs to be exercised as improper technique can cause severe bruising and bleeding that may leave scars on your skin.
10 Precautions You Need To Take For Scraping
- Don’t rub too hard and it should be within your tolerance level. Many people have the misconception that the harder the better.
- Normally, the bruise will pass away after a few days and you should only perform gua sha again after it disappears completely.
- It’s important to apply a suitably thick balm, ointment or oil to the skin. The best results will come from natural oils and balms that nourish and restore the tissues being treated and help the skin to release toxins.
- Avoid scraping instruments that have sharp edges – this might break the skin. Some home therapists use a ceramic kitchen spoon, for example. The best tool is one that is specifically designed for gua sha.
- Try not to scrape over any mole, injury, pimple or mark on the skin. Place your finger over it if possible to guard against accidental contact.
- During pregnancy, gua sha isn’t normally recommended.
Do not use it on people who are very frail, or too weak to tolerate the treatment.
- Don’t use gua sha on people with bleeding disorders, or for people who are taking anti-coagulant medication, like warfarin.
- Since gua sha is very “hands-on” you should avoid giving it to a person suffering from a serious communicable disease.
- Try to do the technique at least one hour before or after eating.
- Don’t bathe or shower for an hour or two after treatment, and keep the body covered up and warm. For the same principle, no air-conditioning, please.
Scraping massage is an excellent remedy for many different types of conditions. It is, particularly, effective in the treatment of tendon inflammation and chronic muscle pains. It has been used for centuries in Chinese alternative medicine and with good results.
Now it is becoming mainstream with scientists and researchers conducting extensive research on its benefits and uses. With the research that scientists have conducted until now, it is evident that this form of therapy has extensive benefits and it is one of the most important forms of alternative medicine. Furthermore, unlike traditional medicine and surgical processes, this form of medicine is completely non-invasive and natural.
If this form of therapy is properly conducted, it can be very beneficial to a number of patients who have had no luck with traditional medicine.
Q: How often should I use gua sha?
There is no fixed schedule or regimen for Gua Sha. One can do it every day (since it takes just a few minutes) or once a week. It all depends on what is the expectation of Gua Sha.
Gua Sha principally performs two functions, namely;
Therapeutic: Gua Sha on the body is mainly for therapeutic needs. It is to relieve pain and stress buildup. In most cases, one session of Gua Sha provides excellent relief, and there is no need to repeat it. But just in case it has to be repeated, depending on the seriousness, it can be done daily or on alternate days. But the quick repetition of Gua Sha is not suggested if the skin is inflamed. Since essentially it is body scrapping, doing Gua Sha daily may be painful, unless you use a very smooth and round-edged tool.
Secondly, if the need is to relieve and destress the facial muscles, or if sinus drainage is the need or lymph drainage is the intent, then one has to do the facial Gua Sha almost every day. This daily routine can continue till complete relief is felt, and then one can switch to thrice or twice a week.
Beautification: If the facial skin is reasonably good and one intends to maintain it that way, then Facial Gua Sha thrice or twice a week is good. But if the wrinkles have set in and the skin sags perceptibly, then one should do it every day.
On the whole, for effective and sustained benefits, facial Gua Sha should be done at least twice a week. Doing it more number times is not at all harmful, but doing it very less frequently will sacrifice the benefits. Of course, one has to balance it with the daily schedule.
Q: Can gua sha be harmful?
Gua Sha is a safe therapy with no side effects or long-term after-effects. But since the treatment involves scraping of the skin, bruises may appear, and sometimes there can be capillary damages too. These bruises generally disappear in a few days.
Since there is always a danger of skin cut, it is imperative to sterilize and disinfect the Gua Sha tools.
One should avoid Gua Sha:
- if there is some medical issue with the skin or the veins.
- if one bleeds easily.
- if someone has an infection, tumor, or any unhealed wound.
- if there is any implant in the body, like the pacemaker, etc.
- if surgery has happened within the last six weeks.
Q: How long do gua sha marks last?
Gua Sha scraping makes the skin pink, red, or purple sometimes, and petechiae develop. The blood from the subcutaneous capillaries oozes out and remains under the skin. That is what produces the marks. These marks generally go away in a couple of days. They do not last beyond a week or ten days.
Drinking water immediately after the therapy helps reduce the marks and also flushes the toxins. Keep the bruises covered to protect it from cold. It not only aids quicker fading of the marks but also prevents the reoccurrence of the symptoms to a large extent.
In case the scraping turns out painful, apply ice packs on it. Alternatively, you can take some over-the-counter medication to reduce inflammation and pain.
Prevent any cut or damage to the skin, and in case the skin is cut, take necessary medical precautions to prevent any infection.
Q: Does scraping release toxins?
Due to intense activity at the muscle level, metabolic waste and toxins are released (for example lactic acid). Scrapping breaks down the accumulated waste, physically. And the increased microcirculation of blood (about 400 times) flushes these toxins from the painful parts of the body. It is always good to drink lots of water after the Gua Sha. Because it helps flush off ‘these’ toxins.
So, yes scraping releases toxins from the affected parts. And that is one of the reasons why it relieves pain and stress.
As with all the alternative forms of medicine, the research evidence is not sufficient to prove this conclusively. But the experience of humanity for thousands of years now, stands to vouch for the correctness of this statement.
Q: Do you use oil with gua sha?
Yes, one should always use some oil or balm before Gua Sha. That keeps the skin lubricated and assists in smooth scraping. Secondly, some medicated oil or lotion enhances pain relief. Scraping the dry skin will bruise it badly and possibly cut the skin as well.
Q: Can Gua Sha reduce cellulite?
Poor lymphatic circulation, coupled with lipid deposition, swells the fat cells. These fat cells deposit under the skin and create cellulite. That is one explanation of how cellulite forms. And frankly, medical science is a little far from conclusively explaining the formation of cellulite. But the above explanation generally finds acceptance amongst alternative therapy practitioners.
Gua sha promotes lymphatic circulation. As the lymph moves, it loosens up the cellulite, and that also moves from its place. The scraping of the thighs or the glutes physically shifts and moves the cellulite. The effect of these two actions results in reduced cellulite in the affected parts.
Whether the cellulite has really dissolved is not clear, but it does disappear from the scraped part. That being the explanation, one cannot be really sure about the reduction. But ‘the disappearance’ happens. Many beneficiaries of reduced cellulite have observed that it comes back after some time on discontinuance of Gua Sha.
Q: Does gua sha slim face?
A sculpted face with well-defined jawlines and high cheekbones are accepted signs of beauty, and every girl wishes to have them. The facial Gua sha has become very popular for the various benefits it has.
One expectation and question that commonly pops up in the minds of most of the girls (and women) is whether Gua Sha helps in slimming the face?
Well, the answer is yes and no. No, it is not a diplomatic answer. It is the truth.
Many women would say that their face slimmed because of Gau Sha. And some would say no to that. Let us try to unravel the anomaly in the answer and experience of different women.
For many women, the face puffs up because of lymph and water retention. It is not fat under the skin but the lymph, which mars the outline of the face and makes it look round and plump. One of the significant advantages of facial Gua is it de-puffs the face and helps the drainage of lymph and water from the face.
Hence, in the initial days of doing Gua Sha, the face loses lots of fluids, and one can see visible changes on the face. All those women who suffer fluid from the face believe that the Gua Sha slims the face. But we have to remember this will be true till the time you do Gua Sha therapy regularly.
Not every face has lymph and water retained under the skin. Many women have perfectly detoxed facial skin. But there could be ‘fat’ under the skin, that hides the facial contours. Now Gua Sha does not dissolve or remove fat. And that is precisely the reason why many feel Gua Sha does not slim the face.
So, if someone has fluid retention on the face, they can expect the face to slim out, and those with fat, may not experience any slimming of the face.
Q: Can you shower after Gua Sha?
Do not shower immediately after Gua sha. You should wrap the scraped part of the body to keep it warm. Warmth increases the therapeutic efficiency of Gua Sha.
After a couple of hours, one can shower with warm water. Warm water keeps the good work on Gua Sha in progress.