Gua Sha, also called spooning, is an ancient therapeutic practice that began in China centuries ago. It remains a popular practice in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Southeast Asia. “Gua” means to scrape or rub. “Sha” is a reddish, sandy appearance.
You might ask “How does a spoon make me feel better?” That’s a good question! In Traditional Chinese Medicine, spoons are often employed to ease the symptoms of a cold or flu. Spoons can also be made of horn or bone, as the instrument is used to scrape the surface of the skin. Medicinal oil or ointment is applied. For respiratory illnesses or flus, the spoon is used on the patient’s back. Following meridians that run parallel down the back muscles, the spoon is scraped downwards until a streak of redness appears. This is caused by capillaries on the skin’s surface, which look like red spotty streaks. By opening up the superficial capillaries of the skin, circulation increases and heat and/or toxins are allowed to escape from within and the patients feel like their muscles have loosened up and breathing eases. Sometimes, their fever drops and symptoms like headaches and a ‘congested head’ sensation alleviates as well.
Although the streaks look quite marked, the patient usually feels only a bit of friction where the spoon makes contact with the skin. Rarely do they feel discomfort or pain. Sometimes they will feel tired after a gua sha treatment, however by the next day, they usually feel better and have more energy. Try gua sha with your next acupuncture or herbal medicine consultation, especially when you need a little extra attention for a cold or flu!
Case study — Gua Sha for clearing pain
A 30-year-old male attended the clinic with strong pain in the upper back and right flank area for the past 3 days. The pain was fixed in location. The application of heat or pressure intensified the pain. He rated the pain as 9/10 and was unable to sit while working on a computer. The use of pharmaceutical pain killers did not reduce the pain. He also reported an increased and stressful workload during the previous week.
A gua sha treatment was applied to the affected area and eased the pain considerably by removing the stagnation, clearing some heat from the area, and improving flow of Qi energy and blood to the area. This allowed the use of acupuncture treatment thereafter. The treatment was consolidated with gentle massage to ensure circulation flow. At the end of the session he rated his pain as 0/10.
A follow up session a week later showed that the pain had not returned and therefore we were able to address his stress levels.