Guasha, Scraping and Redness
If you've gone for an acupuncture treatment and also received a traditional Chinese modality called guāshā 刮痧, you might be wondering what exactly caused those red marks on your skin? Guāshā 刮痧 is the practice of rubbing a smooth-edged tool across lubricated skin to strongly move Qì and Blood, expel an external pathogenic factor, or clear Heat. In Western biomedical terms, this practice increases microcirculation, promotes circulation of lymph, activates phagocytosis, reduces inflammation systemically, and relieves muscular tension or fascial adhesions. Guā 刮 translates to scraping and shā 痧 is the redness that comes up from said scraping, which is also know as petechiae. Petechia is pinpoint, round spots that appear on the skin as a result of bleeding. What kind of bleeding are we talking about here? Let's look at the structures involved and what happens to them when guāshā is performed.
The capillaries are extremely thin vessels formed by only two layers of cells, making them approximately 5 micrometers in diameter. They are the vessels that conduct microcirculation. Their thin walls makes the capillaries highly permeable which allows tiny molecules in the blood to pass through to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tissues while removing metabolites and other waste products. When areas of the body surface with microcirculation problems are scraped with a guāshā tool, the force of the scraping causes blood to leak from the capillaries into the subcutaneous tissue; this is known as subcutaneous bleeding. When the scraping action has stopped, no new sha will appear; this tells you that blood vessels have not been damaged. If blood vessels were damaged, bleeding would continue even after the scraping at stopped.
Studies have shown that guāshā results in a 400% increase in surface perfusion for 7.5 minutes after treatment, and pain relief at the treatment site was maintained for 2-3 days after. Even though the increase in microcirculation rates were limited to the treated area, the pain relief extended beyond the area treated and beyond the time of microcirculation change. Guāshā lowers total body inflammation by stimulating the anti-inflammatory enzyme heme oxygenase-15 which then travels throughout the body, providing an anti-inflammatory effect wherever it traveled. It relieves pain such as chronic pain or acute post-workout inflammatory pain. It increases range of motion by enhancing blood circulation, reducing scar tissue, and improving tendon and tissue extensibility. Guāshā increases blood circulation and causes localized swelling that draws pro-inflammatory molecules such as histamine, prostaglandins, and bradykinin to the area, as well as serotonin; these molecules activate pain receptors at the site of treatment. The microtrauma created by the minor superficial irritation activates pain fibers along the spino-thalamo-cortical nerve pathway which takes incoming messages from the spinal cord to the thalamus for the brain to interpret and respond to messages. This pathway also activates part of the brain that inhibit pain, such as when under stress or due to a sudden trauma.
There is a phrase in Chinese medicine, "Bù tōng zè tòng, tòng zé bù tōng (不通這痛, 痛則不通)" which means that if there is no free flow there is pain; if there is free flow there is no pain. Simply put, guāshā promotes a free flow in the blood circulation to relieve pain.
In health and happiness,
Disclaimer: Any information on this website or blog post should not be used for self-diagnosis or substitute for medical advice. Please always seek advice from a qualitied health practitioner for any health concerns.