It’s 2017, is it time to try something different? Do you suffer from deeply rooted, long term muscle pain? Does your immune system need a bit of a kick start? If you answered yes to either of these questions it might be worth seeking out ‘gua sha’ therapy. Acupuncture therapy is a multifaceted approach that often involves much more than simply sticking needles into people. Other therapies are frequently blended with acupuncture needles when appropriate or sometimes used as a standalone treatment because they offer other benefits for the patient. Massage and cupping are two such additional treatment modalities, but another incredibly useful therapy is gua sha. Gua sha is an ancient healing technique that has been around for literally thousands of years, and is commonly used in East Asia and many other traditional healing practices. Gua sha is sometimes translated as ‘scraping therapy’, though there is a bit more to it than simply scraping if you want to use it safely and effectively! We were trained in the use of gua sha during my acupuncture degree and I frequently incorporate it into treatment for musculoskeletal issues, however I recently attended a course with one of the leading experts in gua sha research, which has really opened my eyes to the science behind the therapy. There has been some very interesting studies over recent years exploring how gua sha can up-regulate the immune system and why it has such an anti-inflammatory effect. I now have a much deeper understanding of some of the systemic benefits of gua sha, as a result I am using it much more extensively than before. The following link will take you to an article written by Arya Nielson, a leading expert on gua sha research: htp://tinyurl.com/glh29ph
The therapy involves pressing and stroking the skin with a tool to bring up the ‘sha’; sha is a patch of small red dots appearing under the skin, scientifically called ‘transitory therapeutic petechiae’. Sha is the result of small numbers of red blood cells and fluid that are squeezed from blood capillaries into the subcutaneous tissue. The sha can make the area look quite strange immediately after treatment and the effects can be seen on the skin for anything from a few minutes to a couple of days. The presence of these substances in the local tissue sets up a healing process, and it is this healing process that brings the key benefits of the method.
As the local tissue is stimulated to break down the haemoglobin from the red blood cells, the levels of heme-oxygenase-1, carbon monoxide, biliverdin and bilirubin in the system is elevated. During this process the colouration in the skin can appear slightly green-ish or yellow-ish as the haemoglobin is broken down, this is a good sign as it is visual confirmation of the presence of biliverdin and bilirubin in the tissue. This shows that these and other key biochemicals are being released, the anti-inflammatory and cell-protective biochemicals that help to support and regulate the body’s natural immune system.
Gua sha can be used to treat both acute and chronic disorders. It can be an effective treatment for tired, aching, knotted muscles as it helps to release the muscle fibres and promotes tissue repair and recovery; from a Chinese Medicine perspective, gua sha has the effect of removing blood stagnation from the tissue. However due to its ability to up-regulate the body’s natural repair and defence mechanisms, gua sha is also surprisingly effective as a treatment for more systemic conditions such as colds, bronchitis, asthma and any chronic condition involving pain or inflammation.
So, if you fancy trying something new in 2017 – maybe acupuncture and gua sha could be the combination you are looking for . . .