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My Journey: Step 7 — Gua Sha

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

June 24, 2011. Written by Leila Ruth Novales

June 24, 2011 – Friday

Breakfast:  Sugar free fiber cookies, chamomile tea

Lunch:  Grilled lemon chicken breast, arugula salad, 1/2 c. french fries, mushrooms

Dinner:   Vietnamese vegetable rice paper spring rolls, vegan pho

Snack:  1 slice watermelon, 2 pcs. Chips Ahoy

Physical Activity:  40 minutes walking in 2 intervals of 20 minutes each.

Treatment/Therapy:  Back scraping (gua sha) and Chinese Cupping Therapy

Relaxation:  Foot massage

Medication:  Yes

Sleep:  6 ½  hours

Blood Pressure:  AM:   140/89    PM: I forgot to take it.

I’d like to share with you two of my favorite Chinese therapies–Scraping and Cupping.  I usually have these done every two weeks or so, after a whole body massage.  The first time I came across this, I was so not attracted to it because of the marks they left on the body, usually on the back-–round purplish/bluish-black marks from cupping and streaks of purple, red, and bluish black from scraping.  It looked like you were some victim of physical abuse!  I could not imagine having it done to me and then having to wear summer clothes.  Everybody would be able to see those marks!  

I became a believer, however, in the year 2009.  I was at work and was going down with the flu.  My whole body hurt (especially my back), my head hurt, my eyes were burning, my bones felt like they were being crushed.  Even my ears felt like they were burning.  They told me to go home but I couldn’t even do that because I felt so weak that I felt I could hardly move.  Ellen, one of my Chinese teaching assistants, could see that I was in so much pain so she volunteered to do gua sha or scraping on me.  I didn’t know at first that this was that thing that left bruise-like marks on your back.  But heck, I was feeling so terrible that I was willing to try almost anything.  Ellen did the scraping on me...

...and when she was done–-wonder of wonders!–-I immediately felt a hundred times better!  Gone was the intense pain on my back and my head felt lighter.  I wasn’t completely well, of course, but I felt well enough to be able to go home.  From that time on, I became a believer in gua sha and started having it little by little. As my back pain grew worse (when I was once again assigned to head the nursery class), I regularly turned to gua sha and cupping to relieve the pain and to improve the circulation of my body.  For those of you who are curious about gua sha, I’ve compiled some information for you.  Read on…

Gua Sha — Scraping Cures

Gua Sha was used in China as early as two thousand years ago. The therapy is very old. It originated from the ancient times and existed before acupuncture.  It was used especially in the countryside to help a person with fever, pain, and fatigue. Such method helps rid the body of some diseases through repeated scraping of the skin. This ancient therapy is simple and believed to be quite effective. 

Guasha means scraping disease out of body. ‘Gua’ means scraping, ‘Sha’ means the something like stagnated energy in the body that later could manifest itself into complaints or diseases.  Guasha therapy achieves remarkable results. This is because during a treatment, guasha works on the skin, tissue, lymph system, meridians, muscles, blood vessels and nerves. This again has its effects on the brain and the immune system. In this way, guasha works on all functions, systems and organs of the body.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, diseases are caused when external coldness or negative energy invade the body and block sweat glands. Thus, people will have some physical discomforts such as dizziness, vomiting and achiness.

The principle of scrape therapy is similar to that of acupuncture. Gua Sha moves, circulates and releases blood trapped in the peripheral capillaries. Gua sha can stimulate blood flow and remove coldness, negative energy, toxic-heat and lymphatic fluid from the body through the skin. Through the process, more blood serum is produced, thus improving the body’s immune system. The skin will feel warm and the presence of redness is often seen after a Gua Sha treatment. This redness or purplish hue to the skin is trapped or congealed blood that is not circulating properly in the body. Left untreated, this can create major problems in not just the muscles but also in the internal organs as well. The muscles deep to the superficial fascia and the organs deep to the muscles are also affected. Any pain, spasm or tightness in the muscles is immediately relieved by this new circulation of blood. The organs are likewise revitalized by the increased circulation of energy, blood, and fluids.

However, western medicine and Chinese medicine have contrasting views on the origin of diseases, hence leading to different treatments. Western medicine emphasizes exterior factors like viruses and microbes that lead to disease where as Chinese medicine places more emphasis on the internal human body. In other words, if the body is strong and healthy the organs will naturally protect themselves from diseases. Chinese physicians have tried to find treatments to improve the function of the six meridians. Western physicians, quite differently, tried to make effective for eliminating bacteria in the body. Chinese medicine physiology is based on the activity of Qi throughout the body, while Western medicine physiology is based on anatomy. Both medical practices can exist side by side.

Marks left behind by gua sha treatment.

Before the actual Gua Sha treatment begins, liquid medicine (usually some kind of oil) is rubbed on the painful area or acupoints to stimulate blood circulation in the body. The therapist then scrapes the skin with a jade or horn blade from top to bottom according to the direction of blood flow. Some blood capillaries break and release the red blood cell, hemoglobin. Such stimulation can promote blood circulation and remove obstruction in the collateral and toxins from the body, which then relieves pain. Though red, purple or black bruises appear after the scraping, during the treatment, the patient rarely feels any pain.

Gua Sha can provide drug-free relief from back, neck, leg and shoulder pain. It can also relieve headaches, ease sinus pain, some women’s problems such as period pain, lack of periods, insufficient lactation, and climacteric syndrome. Besides curing diseases, scrape therapy may build one’s body, prevent diseases and help lose weight.

Gua Sha, like acupuncture, massage and Qi Gong is also a magical method of improving health.

Sources of information:

Next time, I’ll share with you about my other favorite Chinese treatment–Cupping.

Parting Shot: What alternative treatments have you tried?



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