Gua sha is a technique of scrapping an object along the skin to bring up “sha” or petechia allowing toxins to be freed. Most commonly acupuncturists in the United States use a rounded spoon like the kind that come with soup in Chinese restaurants.
Gua sha is used in a number of conditions. It typically does not work as deeply as cupping and can be effective for certain types of pain in those that are too deficient to be cupped. It can also be effective in areas that cupping can not reach because of their shape.
The reason gua sha is used is to release toxins. There are anecdotal stories of a practitioner in Taiwan who would gua sha an entire or arm or leg of a patient who was in kidney failure but was not able to get dialysis. Apparently these people would live for months after their kidneys quit functioning on just this method of healing. The practitioners in the East, however, are far more aggressive with their gua sha than those in the west and it should not be construed that this as an alternative to dialysis. It is not, but for the people with no other options, it was a way of continuing to live the best quality life that they could.
Every acupuncturist uses gua sha in different amounts and for different things. It has been used for migraines, and for fibromyalgia as well as pain due to trauma. Each person sharing the stories gets great results with this treatment. However, not everyone has studied the uses for everything that this method can do.
In the west, patients are less forgiving of the bruising and occasional discomfort this modality can bring on and so it is not typically a first choice for many practitioners.