Gua sha is an East Asian method of press-stroking an area on the skin over a muscle spasm or a meridian or a group of points. This method increases local blood flow up to 400% times, thus increasing the healing process. Gua sha tools can have different shapes, but they all have one thing in common: smooth edges. The gua sha therapy process feels pleasant, but it often leaves a superficial bruise (therapeutic petechiae) that lasts a few days. What’s interesting is that if the pain is referred, or the practitioner used gua sha over a larger area, then therapeutic petechiae do not appear over the healthy regions of the skin. Research has shown that gua sha is a safe technique. One of the most common purpose for which gua sha has traditionally been used is neck pain (Braun et al., 2011).
Efficacy of Gua Sha for Neck Pain
While gua sha has not been as popular among researchers as acupuncture or herbal medicine, many studies demonstrate that gua sha is an effective treatment option for neck pain. Research studies typically focus on one specific effect of gua sha, but the outcomes have been successful. The authors of one study, for example, conclude that, “Gua sha has beneficial short-term effects on pain and functional status in patients with chronic neck pain” (Braun et al., 2011). The authors of another, different study, state, “These results suggest that Gua Sha may be an effective treatment for patients with chronic neck and low back pain” (Lauche et al., 2012).
Combining Gua Sha for Neck Pain with Other Forms of Therapy
Many researchers recommend conducting further studies into gua sha’s efficacy as a single modality, they also explore gua sha’s effectiveness when it is combined with other forms of therapy. For example, the researchers in one study successfully combined gua sha with cupping and conventional soft tissue mobilization techniques to treat pain and range of motion (Doeringer, 2022). Scientists who specialize in research in physical therapy concluded that gua sha has a “potential value as an additional treatment modality complementing conventional manual therapies” (Hartnett, 2022). Traditionally, however, over thousands of years, gua sha has been effectively combined with other modalities from traditional Chinese medicine (Yuan et al., 2015), and research has not shown any reason for this tradition to change.
- Braun, M., Schwickert, M., Nielsen, A., Brunnhuber, S., Dobos, G., Musial, F., … & Michalsen, A. (2011). Effectiveness of traditional Chinese “gua sha” therapy in patients with chronic neck pain: a randomized controlled trial. Pain Medicine, 12(3), 362-369.
- Doeringer, J. (2022). Soft Tissue Mobilization Improves Neck and Upper Back Range of Motion. Research Directs in Therapeutic Sciences, 1(1).
- Hartnett, D. A. (2022). Gua sha therapy in the management of musculoskeletal pathology: a narrative review. Physical Therapy Reviews, 27(3), 169-175.
- Lauche, R., Wübbeling, K., Lüdtke, R., Cramer, H., Choi, K. E., Rampp, T., … & Dobos, G. J. (2012). Randomized controlled pilot study: pain intensity and pressure pain thresholds in patients with neck and low back pain before and after traditional East Asian” gua sha” therapy. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 40(05), 905-917.
- Yuan, Q. L., Guo, T. M., Liu, L., Sun, F., & Zhang, Y. G. (2015). Traditional Chinese medicine for neck pain and low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 10(2), e0117146.