May/June 2001 Alternative Health
by Jim Martin
If you ever do that to her again Ill kill you!
Ill never forget these words of a young woman as she related
her husbands reaction to a rather little known and poorly
understood treatment we had given her called Gwa Sha.
His concern was, however, easily understood, as his wifes
neck and back were covered with a bright red rash, suggesting that
she had fallen from a motorcycle and slid unprotected down the highway
or, in this case, been severely abused by some crazed and violent
acupuncturists. What he did not know was that she was in no pain
and that, in fact, she felt much better than when she came in complaining
of upper body pain. He also had no way of knowing that the rash
would dissipate within a few days, leaving her skin soft and smooth
exactly the way he remembered it.
Sha is a condition in which the waste products of cellular
metabolism (the burning of glucose in the cells for energy) become
trapped in the muscle fibers, often as the result of major trauma
such as whiplash but sometimes from accumulated smaller traumas
from daily wear and tear and exercise. The Chinese medical diagnosis
is stagnation of blood and chi in the meridians, meaning
that there is obstruction of the energy and fluids in the affected
area. The result is stiffness, soreness and pain. Usually, treatment
for this condition consists of medications including painkillers,
muscle relaxers and possibly anti-depressants, plus massages, chiropractic,
physical therapy and so on. People come to see me usually when they
have tried most or all of the above but have failed to find satisfactory
relief from their problem. In my experience, these therapies can
be even more effective when applied after Gwa Sha treatment.
For example, I used Gwa Sha on one woman who was referred
from a chiropractor who was unable to adjust four vertebrae in her
neck. Immediately after Gwa Sha treatment, three of
the four vertebrae were successfully adjusted.
Gwa Sha is perhaps the most dramatic treatment I have
ever used for the relief of neck and shoulder stiffness and pain.
It is remarkably simple yet effective. The skin is coated with a
liniment, and then briskly rubbed with a hard object such as a coin
or ceramic soupspoon, resulting in a red rash. It is understood
that the pressure and stroking motion dislodge the encapsulated
waste products and draw them to the skin surface where they may
be eliminated from the body altogether. Sha is a Chinese
word for sand, describing the rough texture of the rash as it appears
in some cases.
The benefits of Gwa Sha treatment are first that it
produces immediate results most of the time. The appearance of the
rash itself confirms the correct diagnosis of the Sha
condition in the muscle tissue, and usually provides significant
immediate pain relief. Patients will generally report a 50-90% reduction
of pain and stiffness immediately upon conclusion of the treatment,
although occasionally the discomfort may increase somewhat on the
day following treatment, and then reduce significantly the following
Disadvantages of the treatment are that it may be temporarily uncomfortable
for some people during the actual process, and that a red rash will
The rash will act like a common bruise, starting to fade within
minutes, turning dull reddish to green and usually disappearing
within about four days. There is no bleeding or injury to the skin
whatsoever. The biggest problem is convincing concerned friends
and family that you are not suffering from the treatment in any
way, despite its frightening appearance.
Who receives Gwa Sha treatment? I recommend it as the
first line of treatment to most people suffering from upper body
discomfort, and occasionally for low back pain, because it is so
fast and effective in the great majority of cases. I frequently
use Gwa Sha even on fibromyalgia sufferers, with extremely
sensitive skin and muscles, who have reported relief of symptoms
where all other prior treatment has failed. I then follow up with
acupuncture or Moxabustion (heat) to target remaining
problem areas, and may recommend Chinese herbal formulas or therapeutic
magnets to use between treatments.
In some cases, a single session is sufficient to bring resolution
to the problem. However, only so much Sha can emerge
at one time, and in other situations where the problem is more severe,
several sessions, usually a week apart, are necessary to complete
All considered, patients like the results and often come back and
ask for more Gwa Sha treatment when in need. It is a
powerful tool from ancient Chinese medicine well suited to help
relieve the aches and pains of the modern American public.
Jim Martin, Lic. Ac. is an acupuncturist with offices in Hillsboro
(503-640-3668) and Scappoose (503-543-7266). He presents slide and
lecture programs about travels in search of strange and wonderful
people and places around the world. Email: email@example.com