What is Gua Sha?

Gua Sha (aka cao gio, kerikan, coining, spooning or scraping) is a Chinese medial treatment where the skin is scraped to produce light bruises. The term roughly translates to “to scrape wind” which origins date back to the end of the Chinese Han Dynasty from a medical text “Shang Han Lun“. This text was a very in depth explanation of cold inducing diseases and is one of the oldest clinical textbooks in the world.

what is gua sha

Gua Sha has primarily been used over the years to promote healthy living by releasing unhealthy elements from areas of injury and by stimulating blood flow. This is done by causing petechiae called “sha” to show on the subcutis (red spots on your skin). Recent studies have shown that raising sha to show causes an anti-inflammatory and immune protective effect that lasts for about a week and causes some relief for patients with a host of ailments or disease.

Who practices Gua Sha?

Basically any hands on therapeutic practice can use this technique. We see that many massage therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors and some Doctors that work hands on with their patients use this method.


Lubricant is applied to the skin surrounding the application area which is followed by numerous pressured strokes with a Gua Sha tool. In it’s most simplest forms, you’ll often see a ceramic Chinese spoon used to apply the stroke. However, many practitioners nowadays use buffalo horns, jade and even stainless steel tools. Watch the quick video on Gua Sha from Mona Chopra, Acupuncturist in NYC.

Gua Sha vs IASTM (Graston)

Since both of these techniques are to heal the body purposely by creating trauma to the skin and muscle in certain areas of the body, many people that aren’t in this space get confused. When you drill down to the actual tools that are created and used, there are many differences.

Gua Sha, as stated above, is primarily focused on raising “sha” on the skin and is focused on preventing the common cold, acute and chronic pain throughout the body. Most commonly, Gua Sha is used in the “yang areas” of the body such as the back, neck, limbs and buttock.

The Graston Technique (also referred to as IASTM or “Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization”) are of focus is to break up soft tissue and decrease inflammation. This technique uses stainless steel tools to create pressure in the areas of need. The #1 goal of using Graston is to break up the adhesions formed around muscles. This happens by causing inflammation itself in the areas of need which then results in the healing of the damaged area over time.

gua sha vs graston iastm

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