Acupuncture, FAQ, Pain Management

Gua Sha for pain relief

Gua sha for pain relief is a technique many acupuncturists learn. The results of this technique can be pretty scary looking, but don’t let that deter you from learning more about this helpful technique. The modern “Graston Technique” developed from this ancient and useful practice.

What is Gua sha?

Gua Sha is an ancient healing technique used throughout Asia. Gua means “to rub” or “friction”, while Sha describes the congestion of blood at the surface of the body.

What does Gua Sha do?

Gua Sha is used to move stuck blood, promoting normal circulation to the muscles, tissues and organs directly beneath the surface being treated. The technique also potentially stimulates the body’s natural pain-relieving opioid systems and it may block the pain response pathways. The patient can experience immediate changes in stiffness, pain and mobility.

How is Gua Sha performed?

The Gua Sha technique uses a thin, rounded surface to scape the skin. Traditionally bone or horn tools were used. Currently bone is still used, along with stainless steel, ceramic and plastic.

Oil is applied to the skin, then the tool is used to rub the skin in short repeated strokes until the skin reddens. The oil protects the skin from any damage so the technique is not painful. Gua Sha for pain relief is performed along muscles or along acupuncture meridians.

The stroking causes blood in the spaces between cells to collect below the skin resulting in sub-cutaneous blemishing. Sha rash does not represent capillary damage/rupture such as a bruise, as is evidenced by the immediate fading of markings to echymosis and the rapid resolution (2 to 4 days) of Sha compared to bruising.

Benefits of Gua Sha:

  • increased local blood flow
  • strengthen immune system
  • anti-inflammatory effect
  • improved functioning of organs
  • reduced stress (relaxed mind, reduced anxiety)

What problems can Gua Sha treat?

  • pain / discomfort
  • sprains, strains, muscles spasms
  • upper respiratory problems: asthma, bronchitis, colds, flu
  • fever, heatstroke
  • fibromyalgia
  • digestive problems
  • palpation of “sha”

Post-treatment Care

After having a gua sha treatment, keep the area worked covered to avoid exposure to wind, sun or sudden temperature changes. Gentle stretching of the muscles treated is recommended. Heavy workouts should be avoided on the day of treatment – give your muscles time to benefit from the treatment.

Other treatments that can help resolve muscle pain include cupping and acupuncture.


  • Nielsen, A. (2013). Gua sha: A Traditional Technique for Modern Practice, 2e (2nd edition.). Oxford: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Ms. Nielsen’s website: