Gua sha is a traditional Chinese healing method in which a trained professional uses a smooth-edged tool to stroke your skin while they press on it. This motion raises small, red, rash-like dots that show under your skin called petechiae.
People use gua sha to treat chronic pain all over their body. They often do it alongside other complementary treatments like herbal medicine, massage, acupuncture, and heat therapy.
To prepare you for treatment, your technician will put oil on your body. They’ll then use the stone-like gua sha massage tool to scrape to your skin in long, downward strokes. This is when you’ll notice areas of petechiae on your skin.
Most people get gua sha on their:
At first, they'll gently use the tool on your skin. Gradually, add more pressure to the strokes. They’ll only apply as much pressure as you’re comfortable with.
This process is believed to help blood flow and create a “lifting” effect on your skin, which some say may help lessen toxins in your body and promote healing.
You might also have gua sha done on your face, but that process would be gentler.
A few studies have looked at whether it can be helpful for some conditions, including:
Hepatitis B. One study shows that it might help lower the amount of liver inflammation caused by the hepatitis B virus. But we need more studies to know for sure.
Migraines. A study suggests that as part of a 14-day inpatient treatment, gua sha appeared to help ease migraine pain. But experts need more research and clinical trials to prove this.
Tourette's syndrome. This condition affects your nervous system and causes “tics,” or sudden twitches. In one study, a man with Tourette's syndrome used a combination of acupuncture, herbs, lifestyle changes, and gua sha once a week for 35 weeks. He saw his symptoms improve by 70%. But researchers need more evidence to confirm the links.
Neck pain. In one clinical trial, 48 people with chronic pain in their necks went into two equal groups. After a week, the people that had gua sha treatment saw their pain ease significantly for a short time. Experts are undecided about the long-term effects of gua sha on neck pain.
Perimenopausal symptoms. Women nearing menopause can have things like abnormal periods, hot flashes, sleep issues, and mood changes. In one study, women who used gua sha once a week for 8 weeks saw those symptoms improve. Researchers are still trying to understand if and how it works.
Breast fullness. If you breastfeed, your breasts might overfill with milk. This might cause them to swell and become painful. In one study, women who were having trouble breastfeeding because of breast fullness got gua sha treatment while they were in the hospital and for a couple of weeks after they went home. Those women saw their pain ease and they were eventually able to breastfeed more easily.
Typically, gua sha is considered safe. However, you may have some bruising or discoloration of your skin. You could also be sore and tender for a short while after you have your treatment.
You shouldn't have it if you're taking medicine for blood clots.
If you're thinking about trying gua sha, talk with your doctor first to make sure it's right for you.