Scraping Away Muscle Pain (Errr....What?) Using Gua Sha

What would you say if I told you that you could actually "scrape" away muscle pains? Sore and achy muscles can be caused by virtually any strenuous activity you put on your body: a really hard leg day at the gym, strained lifting from reorganizing your living room for the umpteenth time, to achy muscles caused by the common cold. And even better, what if I told you that you could do this all from the comfort of your own home... no therapist required? Sound too good to be true? Well, for once, it's not.

Gua Sha, a traditional Chinese medical treatment may look and sound torturous (seriously, Google image search Gua Sha to see some pretty intense pictures), but is anything but. Pronounced (GWA - SHAH), this treatment involves scraping the skin to form light bruises. It is thought that during this process, unhealthy elements are released from injured areas of the body and blood flow is stimulated to decrease pain and increase the healing process. 

Perhaps what makes it appear so painful are the red marks left all over a person's body post-procedure. These rash-like marks and bruises are know as petichia, which is simply stagnant blood that is trapped in the tissues. During an injury, blood flow is decreased to the injury site and both lactic acid and uric acid can get trapped underneath the skin, or within bound up muscle. Forcing that blood out of these tissue masses is what causes the petichia (bruise-like appearances) and promotes healing, thereby reducing pain. 

An effective Gua Sha treatment can be done at home using basic techniques, although intense Gua Sha treatments should be done by licensed professionals. The treatment itself involves using a tool to "scrape" over a wound-up/knotted muscle (usually identified by sore spots in your body), to help move toxins out or to break up scar tissue. One area is rubbed unilaterally (one direction) for about 20-30 seconds, and by applying medium pressure; there is no need to press forcefully.  

It is most commonly used to treat back pain, muscle spasms, strains, sprains, muscle pains in the legs, muscle tension caused by arthritis, and foot problems (like plantar fasciitis). It can also be used to treat symptoms related to asthma and the common cold! The treatment does not hurt, per se, but can be uncomfortable depending on how sore your muscles are. 

Gua Sha can also be performed on the face and has been likened to a natural form of "botox" treatment. By deeply massaging the face, muscle contractions are relaxed, which give the appearance of a smoother complexion. Deep lines are also lessened through this relaxation and fine lines sometimes disappear all together. While this has yet to be clinically tested, I am really curious if anyone has tried facial Gua Sha and what their experience has been (please comment below if you have and give me the details!)  

Getting started with Gua Sha

To get started, you will need a scraping tool (honestly, it sounds so much worse than it is). Sidekick makes a great, and very affordable, Gua Sha muscle reliever tool. The tool works by providing myofascial release to affected areas (much like foam rolling). Self-myofascial release can improve your flexibility, performance, and range of motion by massaging away restrictions to return tissues to their normal extensibility.

*IMPORTANT: Gua Sha is not meant to take the place of foam rolling, but rather to be used in conjunction.

The Curve Sidekick tool is excellent for a number of reasons. For one, it is smooth and has clean rounded edges that won't knick, cut, or cause damage to the skin. It is made of 100% bian stone; a stone regularly used in traditional Chinese medicine. This stone is heavier than plastic and jade, which are materials commonly used to make Gua Sha tools. The heavier the scraping tool, the less pressure you need to exert.

Second, the Sidekick tool is curved to make it easy to maneuver across various parts of your body, as well as being comfortable and easy to grip.  

Third, it comes with warming balm, which allows the tool to easily glide across the surface of your body without catching on your skin. Lubrication is essential in protecting the skin from overscraping. And it should be noted that the balm is made from all organic ingredients to prevent skin irritation and break-outs. Boom. 

Last, it's easy enough to do that I was able to watch Peppa Pig with the kiddos while doing some muscle scraping in the living room. If that isn't efficient, I don't know what is.

How to perform Gua Sha

1. There is no special course or certification needed to perform basic movements at home. Check out Sidekick's Youtube channel for a quick how-to tutorial before you get started. 

2. Identify areas of your body that are sore (yes, even headaches! The Gua Sha technique can help alleviate muscle tension that commonly leads to headaches and migraines).

Gua sha scraping directions diagram

3. Apply the warming balm (or a lotion/oil) so that the Gua Sha tool will slide easily over the affected area.

4. Scrape for 20-30 seconds in a unilateral direction, applying the same amount of pressure as you would if you were squeezing a peach to check if it was ripe (or just think in terms of light-moderate pressure). 

5. Scrape the arms and legs downwards, away from the heart. The same goes for the back: down along spine, otherwise down and outwards towards the edges of the body.  Shoulders go outwards, away from the midline, and the neck goes upwards. See the diagram for more details.

5. Expect redness! The petichia is a sign you are doing things correctly. 

So What Do I Really Think About Gua Sha?

Top right: before getting started. Top left: Scraping done on the neck using the Curve tool. Bottom right: Scraping done on the trapezius muscles. Bottom right: Results a few hours later once the initial redness had subsided.

I have to say that I was delightfully impressed by this method and by the Curve Sidekick tool. I wasn't totally sure what to expect, but I found this to be oddly addicting once I started. I don't know if it was seeing the petichia crop up (my love of instant gratification) so that I knew I was actively relieving muscle tension and pain, or that I woke up feeling less tight in my neck the next day... but either way, a believer was made! The tool itself was sleek and smooth and fit my hand very comfortably. I've heard of people using kitchen spoons and other at-home utensils, but the edges of this tool will glide much better over your skin; and not to mention when treating larger muscle groups (like your back), you'll be thankful you have a tool that is larger and heavier in size. 

If you have never tried Gua Sha, it is absolutely worth your time. It can be done at home, with a powerful, yet inexpensive tool, and with little training. Your achy muscles will thank you in the morning. 

If you're ready to give Gua Sha a try, the wonderful people at Sidekick have offered to give a 10% discount off your order (use code KRISTI10 at the checkout). Go get your Sidekick Curve and get to scraping.