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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Kong Teck Chuan and Dr Angelica L Dumapit on October 25, 2022

Amazing Health Benefits Of Gua Sha Massage That Go Way Beyond Skin Care

Did you know that gua sha massage can do more than just give you beautiful skin? It also supports Liver, immune, and cardiovascular health.

Gua sha massage on face min scaled

Many Americans are just now learning about gua sha massage tools and how to use them to maintain beautiful skin.

However, this ancient technique founded in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is about much more than anti-aging treatments and reducing puffiness

It can also help you reduce body aches, fight common ailments and diseases, and keep your immune system healthy.

Read on to learn about the amazing health benefits of gua sha massage and how you can perform it at home.

What Is Gua Sha Massage?

Close-up of a woman having a gua sha massage performed on her back
Did you know you can use gua sha to help alleviate back pain?

Gua sha massage is an ancient technique of pain relief and remedy for numerous illnesses that are still practiced today.

TCM Physician Kong Teck Chuan agrees that the practice of rubbing areas of the body with rounded sides of a stone for pain relief could have developed as early as the Paleolithic era when humans began using stone tools.

The earliest formal mention of gua sha massage as an emergency treatment for illness was found in a manuscript of Chinese medicine from over 3,000 years ago.

The treatment is also called scraping or coiningNot only is it practiced in China and Malaysia, but it’s also popular in Indonesia, where it’s known as kerokan.

How Does Gua Sha Massage Work?

The idea behind this massage is to rub specific surfaces of the skin, following certain Du (posterior) meridians (Du Mai), around the neck and upper back area. The tool used is usually hard, smooth, and flat with a rounded edge. It’s made from wood, animal bone, jade, rose quartz, or any other material that shares these qualities. 

To facilitate smooth rubbing that glides with different pressures being applied, the skin’s surface is first moisturized and lubricated with oil or emollient. Although the word “scraping” is typically used to describe the technique, there is no breaking of the skin, wounding, or deep bruising.

The massage is done in such a way that it results in microperfusion or surface circulation of blood. It appears as tiny red dots on the skin’s surface referred to as petechiae (light bruising). “Gua sha helps improve blood circulation to dissipate Blood Stasis, expel Wind, and clear Heat,” stated Physician Kong.

What Makes It So Effective?

A young woman massages her face with a jade gua sha to firm her skin
Gua sha helps encourage blood flow throughout the body to promote skin health and reduce pain.

While its exact mechanism is still under study, most research shows a likely explanation involves the ability of the petechiae to induce the dispersal of Blood Stasis. It also encourages fresh oxygenated blood to freely flow in the body.

In the mid-2000s, Western researchers began taking a further interest in gua sha. A small study with 11 subjects revealed a 400% increase in microperfusion following a session. All of them reported a decrease in pain and an increase in overall well-being.

A Harvard study with animal models using mice supports the claim that gua sha upregulates the gene expression of heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), an enzyme with antioxidant and cell-protecting properties. This boosts the body’s own immune system with anti-inflammatory effects. 

Health benefits of gua sha massage

Gua sha is commonly used in TCM to address Liver conditions, such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C. It encourages immunomodulatory effects through its action on the HO-1 enzyme.

This technique is also effective at relieving neck pain, back pain, overall body soreness, migraines, fever, gastritis, mastitis, and other inflammatory conditions.

Studies show a marked decrease in bodily pain such as chronic back pain when patients are treated with gua sha massage and other modern Western medicine therapies versus Western medicine therapies alone.

For women specifically, benefits include statistically significant results in improving serum levels in perimenopausal women where hormone levels fluctuate drastically.

In the health and beauty industry, a gentler form of massage on the face promotes better circulation and lymphatic drainage. 

For the best results, you can visit a TCM healthcare practitioner who can perform a gua sha massage on you upon evaluation of your symptoms and ailments. However, it can also be done at home.

Tips For Purchasing A Gua Sha Massage Tool

Gua sha tools pictured on a pink background
Gua sha tools can be purchased online or at most retail outlets.

You can purchase a gua sha massage tool from most retail outlets today or even online. However, some household items like the rounded-edge handle of a spoon or a large coin would work just fine.

In TCM, stone materials are related to specific goals you might want to achieve. For example, using rose quartz can benefit your immune system while strengthening your cardiovascular system. Jade cools down the body and gets rid of toxins. 

How To Perform A Gua Sha Massage At Home

Before starting, apply a generous amount of lubricating ointment or emollient on your skin. This is to prevent rubbing that is too rough. If you are on blood thinners or are diabetic, be sure to first check with your doctor before a session. 

For gua sha massage that focuses on your back’s Du meridians, you may ask for a family member’s help. For sore arms or legs, you may be able to reach the problem area yourself.

Be sure to first begin rubbing perpendicular to the muscle fibers to help loosen muscle knots. Follow this with rubbing along the muscles to help smooth out and stretch out the fibers. This allows fresh blood to flood the cells.

For Best Results, Live A Healthy Lifestyle

Like other TCM modalities, gua sha massage is not meant to be a standalone treatment. It’s to be complemented by a healthy lifestyle. Supplement with herbs and foods that support overall health like ginseng (Ren Shen) and pure chicken essence. As always, eat a balanced nutritious diet and engage in regular exercise.

Gua sha massage is yet another TCM tool at your disposal for healing and health using your body’s own defenses. Think of it as an assistive spark plug for your body’s machine. Be sure to follow up by consulting with your local TCM practitioner to find out if it is suitable for you.

References

  1. Pacific College of Health and Science. The Science of Gua Sha.  
  2. Brazilian Journal of Pain. 2019. Gua-sha: application and therapeutic results in musculoskeletal pain situations. Systematic review.  
  3. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Why Gua Sha Might Be Good for You
  4. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2018. Effects of Gua Sha therapy on perimenopausal syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.  
  5. ScienceofBeauty.net. 2021. Ask A Dermatologist: Do Gua Sha Facials Really Work?  
  6. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2019. Gua Sha therapy for chronic low back pain: A randomized controlled trial.  
  7. World Scientific. Introduction to Gua Sha Therapy 

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