The 10 Best Gua Sha Tools
What is Gua Sha?
Typically, gua sha is performed on longer muscles, such as those in your back, buttocks, and legs.
Even if you consider yourself well-versed on alternative medicine, there's a good chance you might never have heard of gua sha.
This traditional Chinese treatment involves scraping the skin to the point that you cause petechiae, which is minor capillary bleeding under the skin. The idea behind it is that, by damaging your skin, you release unhealthy matter from your muscles and tendons. As a result, fresh new blood is pumped into the affected area, bring in oxygen, relieving tension, and speeding up the healing process.
A typical gua sha session will involve lubricating your skin, usually with massage oil or some sort of balm, so that the scraping implement slides over it more smoothly. In the early days of the practice, a soup spoon was used for the scraping, and coins, animal bones, and jade have all been used, as well.
The instrument usually has a smooth, rounded edge, which is dug firmly into the affected muscle and scraped along acupuncture meridians. Each stroke is only a few inches long, using moderate pressure.
Practitioners believe that gua sha helps to break down scar tissue, thereby providing healthier movement and broader range-of-motion in the joints. It's also thought that it frees up a person's energy, or qi, and allows it to move undisturbed in the body, reducing aches and pains.
Typically, gua sha is performed on longer muscles, such as those in your back, buttocks, and legs. You can even use the technique on your face, although a lighter touch is usually suggested. After all, you don't want to walk around looking like you just flew through the windshield on the way over.
Gua sha isn't for everyone, but if you've tried everything else, it's certainly worth a shot. There's little downside, other than minor (and temporary) bruising, but don't rely on it for everything. Check with your doctor before starting anything, and make sure you find a reputable practitioner.
After all, there might not be much difference between a gua sha practitioner and paying someone to beat you up.
Does It Really Work?
It can seem like a new alternative therapy crops up every few weeks, always better and more effective than the last. Then it often just fades away, to be replaced by the Next Great Thing. So, it's worth asking if this gua sha stuff really works.
One thing we should make clear up front: like many alternative treatments, there isn't enough peer-reviewed research to come to a conclusive answer. The few studies that have been performed have generally been of poor quality, and there aren't enough to make definitive rulings either way.
That said, there is some evidence that gua sha might be worth a shot.
Again, this isn't exactly a medical revolution, but this is the kind of evidence we have to work with.
A study in 2017 found that weightlifters who had been treated with gua sha felt that, after the treatment, lifting heavy weights became easier. Again, this isn't exactly a medical revolution, but this is the kind of evidence we have to work with.
Similarly, in 2014, people who suffered from neck and shoulder pain that originated from staring at computer screens all day long were able to see reduced pain and increased range-of-motion from consistent treatment, as opposed to a control group who saw no such benefits.
Beyond that, most of the evidence is anecdotal. There are a great many people who swear by it, especially in Asian communities. Then again, there are quite a few people who have tried it and seen no results whatsoever.
Ultimately, it's likely not something that can dramatically change your physical health. It's not a miracle treatment. However, anyone looking for occasional light relief might want to check it out and decide for themselves, especially if they've already been helped by other treatments like acupuncture or cupping.
Who Can Benefit From Gua Sha?
Gua sha may be able to help with muscle pain and soreness, but that's far from the only condition that can benefit from a scraping treatment.
Women struggling with symptoms of perimenopause might find some relief, especially with sweating, insomnia, and headaches. It's not known why gua sha might help, but a 2017 study indicated that it could be a safe and effective non-drug treatment.
None of this means that the treatment is suitable for everyone or without risks, of course.
Hepatitis B sufferers could also see results. The liver inflammation caused by the condition could be reduced, as the therapy has shown a reduction in liver enzymes. It's especially helpful when the virus transitions into an active state, and may shield the liver from further damage until the disease goes back into remission.
Since gua sha can relax and relieve tired, sore muscles, it should come as no surprise that it's also potentially beneficial for migraine headaches, including those that aren't immediately responsive to medication. It can also reduce neck pain, which is useful if that's a trigger for your headaches.
Breastfeeding mothers might want to consider it if they suffer from breast engorgement. While it's only a temporary condition, gua sha can help reduce the pain and swelling until it passes, making it easier for them to nurse their child.
None of this means that the treatment is suitable for everyone or without risks, of course. You won't want to put pressure on your throat, and there's been at least one case of acute epiglottis as a result of over-zealous scraping. Similarly, while a session shouldn't cause bleeding, there's always that possibility — so make absolutely certain your practitioner sterilizes their tools and surfaces.
That being said, it's generally a safe procedure, and one that's viable for just about anyone. Again, it's not a panacea, but it may just help take some of the edge off your stress and tension — and that's no small accomplishment nowadays.