Gua Sha Guide

The literal meaning of gua sha is “to scrape sand,” which refers to the light, speckled bruising on the skin after a treatment. In TCM, gua sha is believed to move blood and qi.

The most common conditions and symptoms treated with gua sha include:

  • back pain
  • shoulder and neck tension
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • tennis elbow
  • poor circulation
  • scar tissue

“In TCM, if there is blood stagnation or a blockage of qi, pain or illness is the result,” explains Gabriel Sher, the director of acupuncture at ORA in New York City. “Gua sha disperses stagnant blood and energy, facilitating the free flow of qi throughout the body.”

Gua sha is sometimes referred to as “spooning” or “coining.” This is because gua sha was historically done using a ceramic Chinese soup spoon or a blunt, well-worn coin.

“Today, practitioners commonly use polished tools made out of jade, quartz, or bone,” says Shari Auth, DACM, the co-founder of WTHN studio in New York City.

If you give gua sha a try, don’t be alarmed if you see light bruising. “The scraping sometimes produces light petechiae on the skin that can vary from light pink to red and even purple,” says Auth.

Bruising can last anywhere from 1 to 7 days and is not painful or sensitive if done correctly. It’s not guaranteed that gua sha will leave marks at all, especially if done with a light touch.

There have been multiple studies done to prove the effectiveness of gua sha.

In a 2017 studyTrusted Source, older adults with back pain were treated with either gua sha or a hot pack. While both treatments relieved symptoms equally well, the effects of those treated with gua sha lasted longer.

In a 2014 study, researchers found that gua sha improved the range of movement and reduced pain in people who used computers frequently compared with a control group that had no treatment.

Studies have also shown that gua sha may reduce painTrusted Source, speed muscle recoveryTrusted Source, balance hormone levelsTrusted Source, and promote healing of various conditionsTrusted Source, such as peripheral neuropathy, or the malfunctioning of the part of the nervous system that delivers messages to the brain.

Gua sha is simple to perform and can be done at home if you learn the proper techniques and safety precautions. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before adding gua sha to your routine.

On the body

Gua sha is performed along the meridians of the body. According to TCM, meridians are channels or streams of energy where qi flows in our bodies.

The gua sha tool is scraped in a fluid motion to disperse stagnant blood. Long strokes over lubricated skin with a fair amount of pressure help to stimulate blood flow in the affected area. Mild bruising often occurs, which is the result of blood flowing to the surface of the skin.

Practitioners often work areas of pain or perform gua sha along meridian lines, depending on the desired result. Gua sha is typically performed on the back, neck, shoulders, and sometimes on the legs.

“Scraping the area between the shoulder blade and the vertebrae helps to reduce inflammation, strengthen the lungs, and disperse pathogens in the chest,” says Sher.

On the face

According to Auth, facial gua sha is different from gua sha on the body, and it does not leave marks.

“Typically, a polished tool made from jade or quartz is used to massage the face,” she says. “Facial gua sha increases circulation and the production of anti-aging molecules, collagen, and elastin.”

Collagen helps to reduce wrinkles, and elastin helps to firm and tone the face. This increased circulation helps with detoxification. This may lead to a clearer complexion and promote lymphatic drainage.