Vicki Ramsdell LMT demonstrates the use of Gua Sha to treat the forehead region
“Gua” — Chinese word meaning ‘to rub or to scrape’
“Sha” — Chinese word meaning ‘sand, sharkskin, fever, or rash’
Gua Sha is a centuries-old East Asian soft tissue technique which involves the application of a smooth-edged instrument applied unidirectionally to lubricated skin using enough pressure to cause the development of petechiae (Sha) for the purpose of alleviating symptoms of disease.
Whilst the historical use of rubbing stones on body parts for therapeutic purposes is noted as far back as the Paleolithic Age, Gua Sha has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which can be traced back more than 2000 years.
Gua Sha continues to be used widely as a folk remedy even by non-medical practitioners; and its' related methods and techniques are still often traditionally passed down through household members.
Also sometimes called scraping, spooning, or coining, Gua Sha is a familiar tool found in the TCM toolkit, but is not as commonly recognized in Western medicine.
TCM foundations hold the belief that the body naturally attempts to heal itself by restoring balance when it is lost through blockage or stagnation of Qi (vital life force).
Gua Sha therapy is thought to assist this rebalancing process by alleviating stagnation of blood, lymph, and Qi.
Studies have shown that Gua Sha treatment results in Increased blood flow to treatment area; Pain suppression, both locally and within the CNS; Anti-inflammatory effects; and Hepatoprotective effects in Hepatitis B and C infections.
Dr. Arya Nielsen, acupuncturist and pioneer study author, bridges the gap between TCM and a more Western explanation. Dr. Nielson explains that the aim of Gua Sha is to cause temporary extravasation of blood into the subcutis — therapeutic petechiae.
Her research has shown: 400% increase in microperfusion following Gua Sha treatment; microperfusion diminishes over a 2-day period.
As hemoglobin from the extravasated blood brought out by Gua Sha treatment is broken down and reabsorbed, upregulation of heme oxidase-1 (HO-1), carbon monoxide, biliverdin, and bilirubin occurs; these metabolites have anti-inflammatory and cytoprotective properties.
Her findings suggest that HO-1 upregulation could be protective for many inflammatory and immune-mediated disease processes; this physiological response might explain how Gua Sha can be an effective adjunctive therapy for many different disease processes.
“Raising Sha removes blood stagnation considered pathogenic in traditional East Asian medicine. Modern research shows the transitory therapeutic petechiae produce an anti-inflammatory and immune-protective effect that persists for days following a single Gua Sha treatment, accounting for the immediate relief that patients feel from pain, stiffness, fever, chill, cough, wheeze, nausea and vomiting, etc., and why Gua Sha is effective in acute and chronic internal organ disorders including liver inflammation in hepatitis.” — Arya Nielsen, PhD.
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