What is Gua Sha?

Feb 26, 2019


Gua Sha is a natural alternative therapy that utilizes a scraping tool to address muscle tension and pain.

The combined action of sustained pressure and scraping motion work together to help relax the muscles and make the experience more comfortable for clients.


Traditionally, Gua Sha has been used in Eastern medicine, but has since made its way over into Western treatments as a supplementary tool.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, qi or chi is a type of body energy and many believe that an individual’s chi must be balanced to support a healthy lifestyle. If this energy is blocked due to muscle tightness, it presents itself as pain or tension in the muscle or joint.

It is also believed that blood stagnation can lead to common ailments and gua sha is believed to help move the stagnated blood and replace it with fresh blood.

These days, you will find a variety of practitioners that use soft tissue release tools. Some manual practitioners (i.e. massage therapists, physiotherapists…) use another version of Gua Sha, aptly named Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM.)

Others are trained in the more traditional theory and may approach your condition with a different set of lens.

Both techniques aim for the same goal, which is pain relief, however, the main difference behind them are the theories that support the results of the technique.


In the truest sense of Gua Sha, it is believed that the technique can be applied to help with medical ailments. However, from a massage therapist standpoint, Gua Sha is used to help:

  • Increase circulation
  • Decrease pain and muscle tightness
  • Improve overall well-being
  • Increase relaxation and ease stress

With this supplementary tool, massage therapists are able to address a variety of soft tissue injuries, ranging from fresh, acute injuries to chronic aches.

The type of tools and the materials vary. Some practitioners believe in using materials, such as jade or rose quartz, for their crystal healing properties while others use medical grade materials.

If some are really in a tight bind and have no access to these tools, you could even use a spoon!

Introducing a small trauma to the affected muscle through Gua Sha, kickstarts your body’s natural healing process, which may help to break down scar tissue.

Combining this form of therapy with stretching and strengthening exercises provided by your therapist, it helps set your body up for a proper healing environment.


Depending on how much tension is released, some clients may find that their skin develops a reddish or purple tinge, otherwise known as petichae or sha.

While it may look concerning at first, this is a normal part of the healing process and these spots should not be painful to touch.

These bruises may take a few days to heal and clients should be mindful not to aggravate the treated skin. Applying ice to the area has been shown to help decrease inflammation and redness.

Your therapist should not break the skin during treatment, but there is always a risk of it happening. Tools must be sterilized before and after every treatment to minimize risk of infection.


Depending on where you are being treated, the technique should be firm and going in one smooth stroke direction, multiple times until the area relaxes. Some discomfort may be present, but if there is any experience of pain, be sure to inform your therapist. The pressure should be comfortable enough within the client’s pain tolerance.


If you are suffering from pain and aren’t sure why, your massage therapist may be able to help! With your cooperation, your therapist will formulate a treatment plan that will indicate whether gua sha may be suitable for your condition.

However, Gua Sha is not suitable for every condition. Individuals with any of the following conditions should let your therapist know, so that they can safely modify your massage treatment for you:

  • Medical conditions affecting the skin or veins (i.e. varicose veins…)
  • Individuals with bleeding disorders
  • Individuals who take blood thinning medication
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Infections, tumors or wounds that haven’t healed properly
  • Individuals who have an implant, such as a pacemaker or internal defibrillator.

If you’re still unsure whether Gua Sha may be for you or not, it’s always best to consult your family doctor first.

Vanesa Sale, RMT