Jun 5, 2019
Is Scraping an Effective Treatment Tool?


Chinese medicine techniques are being used by many sports medicine professionals to treat muscle pain.

One of the techniques, called “gua sha,” is better known in the U.S. as Scraping. It’s the practice of scraping the skin with a hard, thin tool for a range of purposes. Chiropractors and physical therapists have been using this technique to break up scar tissue, smooth out connective tissue, encourage blood flow and promote better movement of the joints and muscles.

There are many practitioners of Scraping who believe that the process can boost the immune system and transfer energy in the body and balance chi.

While there are many questions surrounding Scraping, an article on myfitnesspal.com points out there are recent studies that support the effectiveness of Scraping.

One study published in Explore: the Journal of Science and Healing found that utilizing the practice of Scraping resulted in a “fourfold increase in microcirculation — circulation of the blood in the smallest blood vessels — and study participants reported a decrease in muscle pain. This led researchers to conclude gua sha may be beneficial for treating pain.”

Another study in the Pain Medicine journal found Scraping provides short-term benefits for patients with chronic neck pain (it’s worth noting that the researchers stated its role in long-term pain management is unclear).

And a joint study by Massachusetts General Hospital and Hong Kong Polytechnic University looked at how both Scraping (or gua sha) and hot packs treated lower back pain. Both modalities improved pain and inflammation equally well, but patients receiving gua sha treatment reported longer-lasting effects.

Arya Nelson, PhD, an acupuncturist at Beth Israel Medical Center who wrote a book on Scraping, is also a believer in the technique’s ability to treat pain. “It produces an anti-inflammatory and immune protective effect that persists for days following a single gua sha treatment,” she said in the article on the myfitnesspal.com website.” As a result, it can be effective at everything from reducing muscle pain and stiffness to treating internal organ disorders like liver inflammation.

One of the recent studies does have an arthlete-related angle to it. A 2017 paper published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine showed Scraping lowered the rating of perceived exertion among weightlifters. “Over an eight-week study, participants who received gua sha recovery therapy twice per week reported lower exertion rates during Olympic lifts (the snatch, clean and jerk) than those in the control group,” the article stated.

Potential Risks/Negative Effects of Scraping

“Gua sha scraping causes tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin to burst, so many people experience significant red or purple bruising,” the article states. “The technique itself is not typically painful, but afterward, it’s common to experience some tenderness in the treated area. While the skin should not be broken during scraping, it is possible. So, you should be careful to always use clean instruments to avoid the possibility of contamination.”

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