By Trish Cooper
Gua Sha is an age-old healing modality that involves applying pressure and scraping the skin with smooth strokes. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, “Gua” means to scrape and “Sha” refers to the red skin rash (petechiae) that rises up as a result of the scraping (Suttie E., 2013). By creating friction along the skin, the therapy increases circulation of blood along the surface. The body’s immune system then recruits cells to pick up the blood and break it down. Increasing the breakdown of hemoglobin within the blood has been shown to up-regulate an enzyme called heme-oxygenase-1 (HO-1). This is where the real magic begins! HO-1 has both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, meaning it can support neuronal health and help reduce inflammatory symptoms. For this reason, Gua Sha has shown to be useful in treating an array of conditions including muscle and joint pain, colds, fever, lung issues, and chronic active hepatitis B. (Nielsen A., 2019) (Uttara B, et al. 2009).
From a TCM perspective, gua sha is said to open the pores, which allows the release of wind, heat and pathogens. It can also improve blood circulation, move blood stasis, and break up fascial adhesions. This is important because stagnation is a common source of pain and illness, which is why improving circulation is essential for reducing symptoms. Once smooth flow of blood has been restored, the body can efficiently send its defenses to repair the damages caused by stagnation.
Whether you have stagnation or deficiency, the “sha” that comes up during treatment can provide diagnostic information for the practitioner. For example, light pink can signify blood deficiency, while fresh red can indicate heat or an acute condition. If the sha appears to be dark red or black, that points to deep stagnation and chronicity. As the sha begins to fade, it can change to a yellow color signifying dampness or a light green which represents toxicity. So next time you get gua sha, take a look at your petechiae to better understand what is happening in your body!