Gua sha massage is derived from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and involves rolling or scraping a smooth “healing” stone across the skin.
With this alternative therapy making a comeback, is it actually worth trying? Here’s everything you want to know about gua sha massage.
What is gua sha massage?
Gua sha (pronounced gwah-shaw) massage is a practice derived from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and involves rolling or scraping a smooth “healing” stone across the skin. Gua sha is also called scraping, spooning, or coining.
This may offer potential health benefits by reducing inflammation and is sometimes used to help chronic pain. But, research on gua sha is limited, and it’s not recommended for everyone.
Gua sha is thought to free up stagnant energy in the body. In accordance with ancient Chinese medicine, gua sha practitioners believe that chi (aka vital life force or energy) may become blocked in certain areas of the body and lead to problems like inflammation, chronic pain, and disease.
During a gua sha massage, a technician wills scrape your skin in a downward motion to stimulate soft tissue circulation and boost blood flow.
They’ll make these strokes with a gua sha massage tool, which is typically a smooth-edged, almost heart-shaped stone made from jade or amethyst. They may apply a little massage oil to aid the process.
The practice is typically done on the back, butt, neck, arms, or legs. A gentler version of the practice is sometimes done on the face, too.
Does it hurt?
Much like cupping, it’s sometimes done so forcefully that it leaves behind heavy red marks or bruising. However, your technician should work with you to understand your desired outcome and comfort level.
If you’d prefer a gentle, relaxing experience over a red-streaked back — no prob — just make your needs and boundaries known.
Before stones and crystals were beloved by spiritual-wellness Instas, they were used in ancient healing practices. That’s because TCM practitioners believe certain natural materials contain an energy that facilitates healing.
Jade is thought to be an ideal stone for gua sha since practitioners believe it has a chi energy that’s similar to the human body and may contain balancing properties. Other common gua sha stones include Bian stone, rose quartz, amethyst, and aventurine.
Sometimes medical-grade stainless steel is used by a technician instead of stone. In ancient times, a spoon or coin was also used for gua sha.
What about gua sha facial massage?
Gua sha is also done on the face, typically with a much lighter hand than on the rest of the bod.
By gently stroking the gua sha stone over the skin (with the helpful glide of a face oil), practitioners believe the practice relaxes muscles, promotes blood circulation and drainage, and relieves puffiness.
With the ubiquity of gua sha stones in the beauty market these days, many opt to attempt this practice on their own from the comfort of their homes.
TBH there’s not a lot of science-backed research out there to prove gua sha works. Similar to using crystals to ward off bad vibes or lose weight, gua sha massage results are very anecdotal.
But, keep in mind that even *if* gua sha functions via the placebo effect, the placebo effect may *work* enough for you. Here’s what some studies say about the practice.
1. May reduce inflammation
Like other forms of massage, gua sha may promote blood circulation and reduce inflammation.
This may make it a potential treatment for a number of ailments that cause chronic pain or disease, including fibromyalgia, arthritis, and back pain. But while it probably won’t hurt to give it a try, the research just isn’t there to prove it’s an effective treatment.
2. May combat symptoms of Hepatitis B
In one case study from 2011, researchers found that gua sha massage helped treat one man’s liver inflammation. He had Hepatitis B, a viral infection that can lead to inflammation, liver damage, and liver scarring.
Though the study only took place over 48 hours on a single individual, there *might* be something to it. For now, it’s just a theory.
3. May ease headaches
In a 2007 case study, a 72-year-old woman with chronic headaches had gua sha massages for 2 weeks. During this time, her symptoms improved, leading researchers to believe that the massage technique may have helped.
However, we def need more research to know if gua sha can truly ease achy heads everywhere.
4. May aid in muscle recovery
In a 2017 study of 65 male weightlifters, those who underwent gua sha felt like lifting weights took less effort post-treatment. As a result, researchers concluded that gua sha could potentially speed muscle recovery and may be considered as an alternative to some types of sports training recovery.
Though more research is needed, some athletes might swap gua sha for all those ice baths.
5. May reduce pain
A 2014 study of 60 regular computer users (present! 🙋♀️) concluded that gua sha improved range of movement and reduced neck and shoulder pain for participants.
Meanwhile, a 2011 study of 48 patients with neck pain found that those who received gua sha treatment reported reduced pain compared to those who were treated with heating pads.
So if you’re fed up with tech neck, you may want to turn to gua sha.
6. May soothe breast engorgement
Many breastfeeding folks experience engorgement, an uncomfy and potentially painful condition where the breast become extremely full of milk.
In a 2008 case study of one woman with engorgement, researchers concluded that gua sha helped ease her condition so she could continue nursing as usual. It’s just one woman, so these results are flawed. But, it makes sense that really any massage technique would help express excess milk.
7. May ease perimenopausal syndrome symptoms
Perimenopause (which happens close to menopause) can cause not-so-fun side effects like insomnia, irregular periods, anxiety, and fatigue.
In a 2017 study of 80 women with perimenopause, researchers found that 8 weeks of gua sha therapy led to a greater reduction in these symptoms than the control group, which only received traditional therapy.
Though gua sha massage is noninvasive, it’s not necessarily pain-free.
Since it involves rubbing or scraping the skin, it may lead to mild bruising. Always discuss the pressure level you’re comfortable with before heading into a gua sha sesh.
Though gua sha needs to be pretty intense to puncture the skin, bleeding is possible. Any blood means there’s the risk of transferring blood-borne illness so technicians should disinfect their tools carefully. To ensure you go to a trusted practitioner, only go to a licensed acupuncturist or practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine.
It’s also best to avoid gua sha if you:
- take blood thinners
- have a clotting disorder
- have had surgery in the past 6 weeks
Gua sha is a massage technique that may help ease pain and inflammation by scraping the body with a stone tool. But, more research is needed to confirm any of these benefits are legit.
Still it most likely won’t hurt to give gua sha a try. Just make sure you visit a licensed acupuncturist or traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. And make sure you skip gua sha if you take blood thinners, have a clotting disorder, or have had surgery in the past 6 weeks.