Gua sha is a powerful technique similar to friction massage that:
- Breaks up painful myofascial trigger points and relieves myalgia
- Stretches and loosens restrictions in muscle and connective tissue, which can relieve pain at sites distal to where the gua sha is applied
- Flushes capillary beds and lymphatic ducts and increases local micro-circulation
- Stimulates tissue healing thorugh release of growth factors
- Can result in rapid restoration of injured muscle strength and function through strong stimulation of muscle/tendon reflexes
Gua sha means “to scrape away fever” (i.e., inflammation) in Chinese. Gua sha involves using the blunt edge of a specially-shaped tool capable of reducing tough, fibrous adhesions that resist thumb or finger pressure.
Gua sha techniques are taught in the IAPM Program in Year 1 Modules 1-6 (Spine and Extremities) and in Year 2, Modules 10 and 11 (Myofascial Meridian Pain).
Myofascial “trigger points” (MTPs) commonly develop either as a primary source of pain from unhealed muscle strains, or secondary to bone, joint, disc and nerve disorders. MTPs can cause pain, tightness, weakness, and tenderness in the affected muscle, erode joint stability and function, and form a vicious cycle with the central nervous system, interfering with sleep and mood.
More than just any tender or “ahshi” point, MTPs are palpable as nodules or “knots” embedded in abnormally tight, fibrous bands of muscle. When pressed or on stimulated, MTPs reproduce recognizable patterns of referred pain to adjacent body regions. The muscle will typically show pain-inhibited weakness and contracture to manual testing.
Traditional acupuncture points can be sites where MTPs commonly develop. Other MTPs have been described in the seminal works of Travell and Simons. Gua sha of MTPs can be a useful complement to traditional acupuncture to facilitate rapid and lasting relief of myofascial pain and dysfunction.