"Gua sha" in Chinese characters
|Literal meaning||"scraping sha-bruises"|
Gua sha (Chinese: 刮痧) is a traditional Chinese medical treatment in which the skin is scraped to produce light petechiae. Practitioners believe that gua sha releases unhealthy bodily matter from blood stasis within sored, tired, stiff or injured muscle areas to stimulate new oxygenated blood flow to the areas, thus promotes metabolic cell repair, regeneration, healing and recovery. Gua sha is sometimes referred to as "scraping", "spooning" or "coining" by English speakers, it has also been given the descriptive French name, tribo-effleurage.
Gua sha was transferred into Vietnamese from China as cạo gió, and is very popular in Vietnam. This term translates roughly "to scrape wind", as in Vietnamese culture "catching a cold" or fever is often referred to as trúng gió, "to catch wind". The origin of this term is the Shang Han Lun, a c. 220 CE Chinese Medical text on cold induced disease - like most Asian countries China's medical sciences were a profound influence in Vietnam, especially between the 5th and 7th Centuries CE. Cạo gió is an extremely common remedy in Vietnam and for expatriate Vietnamese.
It is also used in Indonesia, and in Java it is known as kerikan (lit., "scraping technique") or kerokan, and it is very widely used, as a form of folk medicine, upon members of individual households.
Gua sha involves repeated pressed strokes over lubricated skin with a smooth edged and blunt instrument. Skin is typically lubricated with massage oil or balm, and commonly a ceramic Chinese soup spoon was used, or a blunt well worn coin, even honed animal bones, water buffalo horn, or jade, or even a simple metal cap with a blunt rounded edge is used.
In cases of fatigue from heavy manual labor work, a piece of ginger root soaked in rice wine is sometimes used to rub down the spine from top to bottom.
The smooth edge is placed against the oiled skin surface, pressed down firmly, and then moved down the muscles—hence the term tribo-effleurage (i.e., friction-stroking)—or along the pathway of the acupuncture meridians, along the surface of the skin, with each stroke being about 4–6 inches long.
Practitioners tend to follow the tradition they were taught to obtain sha: typically using either gua sha or fire cupping. The techniques are sometimes used together. In China, they are widely available from national and public hospitals to private massage shops, because of local people's deep trust to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and reasonable price, they are very popular.
Cross-cultural confusion with physical abuse
A slightly different form of gua sha using the edges of coins rather than porcelain items is practiced as a folk medicine technique. Individuals practice this "coining" amongst their own family members in many Asian cultures, such as Vietnam (where the coin scraping, or "coining" is known as "cạo gió", 'scraping for wind'), in Cambodia, and in their respective immigrant communities abroad. For example, health care practitioners in hospitals in Orange County, California, routinely see evidence of coining among hospitalized Vietnamese patients.
"This practice has been misidentified as child abuse in case reports," despite the intention of the parents. However, Physicians are required by law to report injuries from remedies such as "coining" to the appropriate agency (e.g., state child-protective service or state adult-protective service), regardless of intention.
Lack of evidence-based practice and safety concerns
As with other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices, the effectiveness of gua sha is not supported by conclusive research. Past scientific studies were inadequate to show that gua sha is effective in pain relief management. Some studies have found that gua sha has beneficial short-term relief effects in patients with stiff muscles and chronic muscular pain, but further study is needed. An anecdotal study where gua sha was performed during several days in mices shows that scraping the skin until blood extravasation occurs increases the expression of the enzyme Heme Oxygenase-1 (HO-1) consistent with increased oxidative stress and a deficiency in the resolution of inflammation 
The use of safety standards and proper protocols is still limited and requires further development. There was a case report of acute epiglottitis due to gua sha treatment on the neck for throat pain. The continuously applied pressure from gua sha could have damaged the underlying soft tissue, resulting in acute swelling and difficulty breathing. Furthermore, the use of gua-sha along other CAMs was associated with a lower quality of life in patients with rhinitis.
The use of hospital standards of sterilization and personal protective equipment is important to prevent contamination of infectious pathogens. Although no cases of blood-borne pathogens have been reported, the risk of transmission of blood cells and fluids cannot be ruled out. Protective measurements against infectious agents that are recommended include the single use of disposable devices, sterilization of re-used equipment and glove use. Lubricants should be poured out into cups and they are to be disposed after each use. Devices that cannot be adequately sterilized such as horn and bone are not recommended.
In popular culture
The 2001 movie The Gua Sha Treatment (Chinese: 刮痧; pinyin: guā shā) was made in Hong Kong showing gua sha among other things. The movie starred Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Jiang Wenli, and Zhu Xu. It can also be seen in the 1995 Vietnamese movie Cyclo.
- Huard & Wong (1977), p.126. They also cite a French romanization for the same set of two Chinese characters: koua sha.
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