Past and Present of Gua Sha
  10 Aug 2023
Past and Present of Gua Sha

Gua Sha is an old Chinese folk therapy. In Europe, it becomes popular not only in the clinics of Traditional Chinese Medicine and naturopathy, but also in massage centres. Gua Sha is not only favoured by the therapists of Tuina massage, but also favoured by the therapists of Thai massage and Ayurvedic massage. The article is telling you basic facts about the past and present of Gua Sha, and you may understand more about the old therapy.

Tabel of contents:

1) Therapeutic effects of Gua Sha

2) Tools for Gua Sha

3) Lubricants for Gua Sha

Therapeutic effects of Gua Sha

In the Chinese characters “Gua Sha”, “Gua” means scraping, and “Sha” describes a kind of pent-up condition: External pathogenic factors like wind, cold, dampness, heat or an epidemic pathogenic factor invade the body, and cannot be expelled while impeding the flow and diffusion of Qi. Gua Sha is a way to expel pathogenic factors through the skin. Moreover, the therapy can balance Yin and Yang, promote the flow of Qi and Blood, make the meridian system unblocked, and improve the functions of internal organs.

Gua Sha is a kind of physical stimulation. Scraping specific areas of the skin or acupoints stimulates nerve endings, enhances microcirculation and lymph circulation, improves metabolism, relaxes tension and spasm of muscle, and adjusts gastrointestinal functions. The therapy can improve the functions of muscle, internal organs and cardiovascular system through nerve reflex, neurohumoral transmission and activation of hypothalamus.

During Gua Sha therapy, the skin becomes red or dark red after scraping causes dilatation or rupture of capillaries. The condition is called “Sha gets out” and the therapy comes to an end. Immune and repair mechanism of the body will remove blood stasis caused by capillary rupture and restore ruptured capillaries. The stimulation can improve immune function of the body and strengthen the body’s resistance against diseases.

Gua Sha can be used for improving a lot of syndromes. The main indications of the therapy include heatstroke, cold, fever; emesis, dyspepsia; headache, dizziness, neurosis, gastroenteritis, constipation, diarrhoea, hypertension; soft tissue pain, rheumatic arthritis, bone and joint pain; toothache, tinnitus, rhinitis, sinusitis, swelling and sore throat, decreased vision, amblyopia, pseudomyopia; menstrual disorder, breast hyperplasia, chloasma, perimenopausal syndrome, puerperal diseases; pruritus, urticaria, acne, eczema; carsickness, seasickness, airsickness, chronic fatigue syndrome, mild dysfunction of internal organs. In China, there is a concept named “suboptimal health” that means some mild psychological and physical disturbances between health and disease. It can also be improved by Gua Sha.

Tools for Gua Sha

As a folk therapy, the advantages of Gua Sha are low cost and easy manipulations. In ancient times, the scraping tool of Gua Sha could be a copper coin, a spoon, a porcelain bowl or ramie fibres, which people could easily get. Without any tool, the skin can be scraped with salt by hand. Moreover, some bare-handed manipulations of Gua Sha look like Tuina massage. Correspondingly, if scraping or pushing manipulation of Tuina massage utilises a tool, it looks like Gua Sha.

Additionally, a glass cup for fire cupping may also be used as a tool for Gua Sha. There is a cupping method named moving cupping, which have some manipulations like Gua Sha.

A tool specially designed for Gua Sha is more comfortable, durable and safer. Nowadays, the common tools of Gua Sha are made of jade, buffalo horn, wood, brass or quartz. The meticulously polished tools have various kinds of ergonomic shapes that bring different stimulation to the skin.

Some tools of Gua Sha are made of a material named Bian stone. It is a generic name for natural stones which can be used for external therapies. In the primitive period, Chinese people sharpened a natural stone and made a stone needle. The therapy of stone needles is the origin of acupuncture. Since metal needles became widely used, Bian stone has been a good tool for other kinds of external therapies like Gua Sha.

It is worth mentioning the gua sha tools made of jade. Jade is a very special material in traditional Chinese culture. In addition to a status symbol, ancient Chinese people regarded jade as a kind of warm and moisturising stone with spirituality. An old word says, “A gentleman should be warm-hearted and comforting as jade.” Chinese gentlemen and ladies have been fond of jade ornaments for thousands of years. Jade tools for Gua Sha are ideal tools to be interactive with nature and reinforce spiritual practice.

Lubricants for Gua Sha

In order to make a Gua Sha tool move smoothly on the skin, a lubricant is always needed. The simplest lubricant is water. Egg albumen liquid can also be used, especially in the summer.

Sesame oil, which is a very appetitive oil for Chinese food, was once used as Gua Sha oil in ancient times. For ancient common people, oil was not cheap. So the method of lubrication was to dip a tool in sesame oil or mix hot water with some sesame oil. Nowadays tea seed oil is more often used in the folk practice of Gua Sha in China.

In modern Chinese families, there are three kinds of must-have medical products for external use: Essential Balm, also named Medicated Oil or Feng You Essence; Tiger Balm, also named Qing Liang Balm; Red Flower Oil. Feng You Essence and Qing Liang Balm are for treating insect bites and refreshing people, while Red Flower Oil is for treating injuries and pain of bones, joints and soft tissue. They can stimulate acupoints and can also be used as lubricants for Gua Sha.

The oil, wax and cream lubricants that made for massage are also suitable for Gua Sha. In Europe, there are many massage centres that provide Thai massage or Ayurvedic massage. In the massage centres Gua Sha is often an additional service. Various kinds of essential oils, massage waxes and creams are favourites of therapists. In addition to a kind of traditional Chinese essential oil specially made for Gua Sha, offers a lot of massage lubricants that may bring different experiences to the therapy of Gua Sha.


1. Zhao, Y., et al., 2016. Manipulations of Tuina. 4th ed. Beijing: China Press of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

2. Liang, F., et al., 2016. Science of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. 4th ed. Beijing: China Press of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

3. Wang, F., et al., 2016. Manipulations of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. 4th ed. Beijing: China Press of Traditional Chinese Medicine.