What Is a Gua Sha Massage?

Try Gua Sha the Next Time You Get a Chinese Massage

Guā Shā (刮痧) is a traditional Chinese healing method that entails scraping the back to drain excess fluids and toxins. Gua sha is used to treat colds and fevers by improving the flow of qi—the body's energy flow.

The treatment can either be done alone or as an addition to a back or body massage. During a back massage, the masseuse may ask if you would like gua sha. Or, if a massage is not relieving the tension in your back, you can ask the masseuse to do gua sha.

What to Expect

When receiving gua sha, you lay face down on the massage bed. The massage therapist will use a metal scraper, cow horn, or wooden scraper on the back. Using broad strokes, the masseuse will start from the top of the left shoulder and scraped the skin down to the lower back. This motion will be repeated for about 15-minutes until the entire back, shoulders, and neck are scraped. 

In the end, the back will be completely red with lines and streaks from the scraper.  Some people worry that the redness is due to bruising, but that is not the case. The redness is a result of tiny capillaries rupturing which causes red blood cells to travel to surface tissues, which leads to faster healing of the muscles. 

Does Gua Sha Hurt?

At first, gua sha can be painful. But as you get used to the sensation, it becomes less so. Towards the end of the scraping, you may not feel pain at all but rather firm stroking motions.

 

The scraper against exposed skin and shoulder blades may be particularly painful. But it does not hurt so much when the masseuse scrapes areas that are in pain or tense, like shoulders or parts of the back. Then again, each person's threshold of pain is different so some may feel pain during gua sha while others not at all.

Does Gua Sha Work?

After the gua sha treatment, the body should feel much more relaxed and the tension temporarily released. Later in the day, your back may feel like it has a sunburn. After a week, the red marks on the back will disappear. Some people report feeling healed after gua sha, while others still be tension after a few days.