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Gua Sha

Gua Sha is a particular therapeutic technique within the Chinese medicine (TCM) framework. In this article I will introduce you to the basic concepts and discuss the various benefits and effects.


Gua Sha is a widely used techniques by Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners but you may know it as spooning which is a very common street name for it.


It is indeed done with an instrument that a ceramic spoon is a close facsimile of. The original instrument was made our of a bone or a tusk so that is not a good thing from an environmental point of view but that is history as most practitioners now use either a specialised tool or a ceramic spoon with a suitably smooth angles and surfaces.


The primary aim of performing the gua sha treatment is to open the capillaries of the tissues and thus greatly increase the local microcirculation. Studies show increase is in the order of 400%*. This has the result of enabling internal heat to escape reducing inflammation and greatly increasing qi flows. It is great for helping someone suffering from headaches or the flu where there is internalised inflammation. Other uses are to release tight muscles by encouraging blood flow. The other effect is reduction is pain. In TCM there rule of thumb that states "where there is pain there is stagnation" of qi or blood flows. This has indeed been confirmed in controlled studies **.

I have mentioned that there is a reduction of localised inflammation but this is almost a minor use for it. The greater use is in reduction and control of inflammation and inflammatory processes which of course stagnation of qi and blood flows is also a factor in. Studies confirm this effect and postulate that to quote "gua sha up-regulates gene expression for an enzyme that is an anti-oxidant and cytoprotectant, heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), at multiple internal organ sites immediately after treatment and over a period of days following gua sha treatment" *** It is important to not that this gene has a immunoprotective function with respect to the liver as in the case of chronic hepatitis B **** & *****.


spooningtheneckThe movement of blood that has "leaked" beyond the capillary vessels can explain some of the increases in heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) which explains some of the biological underpinnings to gua sha's anti-inflammatory functioning making it useful in alleviating pain in clinical conditions such as fever, cough, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, mastitis, gastritis, musculoskeletal such as neck pain, back pain, migraine, postherpetic neuralgia, and many others +.


The treatment uses no drugs but one should note that it does leave dark lines but that is what dilated capillaries with greatly increased blood flow look like and is the beneficial effect in force.

Having said that make sure you aren't in a wedding shoot the next day or so. You will feel great but the bride may think otherwise.

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* Nielsen A, Knoblauch NTM, Dobos GJ, Michalsen A, Kaptchuk TJ. The effect of Gua Sha treatment on the microcirculation of surface tissue: a pilot study in healthy subjects. Explore (NY). 2007;3(5) (October):456-466.


** Nielsen A 2007 'Gua sha' and the Scientific Gaze: Original Research on an Ancient Therapy in a Call for Discourse in Philosophies of Medicine [doctoral dissertation]. Union Institute & University


*** Kwong KK, Kloetzer L, Wong KK et al. Bioluminescence imaging of heme oxygenase-1 upregulation in the Gua Sha procedure. J Vis Exp. 2009.


**** Xia ZW, Zhong WW, Meyrowitz JS, Zhang ZL. The role of heme oxygenase-1 in T cell-mediated immunity: the all encompassing enzyme. Curr Pharm Des. 2008;14(5):454-464 [6]


***** Zhu Z, Wilson AT, Mathahs MM et al. Heme oxygenase-1 suppresses hepatitis C virus replication and increases resistance of hepatocytes to oxidant injury. Hepatology. 2008;48(5) (November):1430-1439.

Wunder C, Potter RF. The heme oxygenase system: its role in liver inflammation. Curr Drug Targets Cardiovasc Haematol Disord. 2003;3:199-208. [8] Chan S, Yuen J, Gohel M, Chung C, Wong H, Kwong K. Guasha-induced hepatoprotection in chronic active hepatitis B: A case study. Clin Chim Acta. 2011;in412; 1686-1688.


+ Braun M, Schwickert M, Nielsen A et al. Effectiveness of Traditional Chinese "Gua Sha" Therapy in Patients with Chronic Neck Pain; A Randomised Controlled Trial. Pain Med. 2011;12(3) (January 28):362-9.


Updated 6/10/17

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