Gua Sha - Scraping

Traditional Chinese Medicine: My Experience With Scraping

This is the second part of my Traditional Chinese Medicine  series at the Taipei City Hospital with Dr. Tzu Ying Lai. These photos were taken by Joanna Rees for Discover Taipei magazine.

After Joanna finished shooting my cupping session, Dr. Tzu demonstrated a scraping method called Gua Sha.

Its principles are similar to those of cupping and has similar effects on the body, and I’m telling you right now, I would never ever do this again. It caused more damage and issues than I thought possible.

When I think about my Fibromyalgia diagnosis and how bad my allodynia and hyperalgesia are, I can’t believe I put myself through this. It was a really dumb decision on my part.

Allodynia is pain due to a stimulus that does not usually provoke pain, such as wearing tight clothing or someone touching you when your nerves are particularly troublesome.

Hyperalgesia is increased pain from something that provokes pain, like scraping for Chinese Traditional Medicine. It has prominent symptoms in patients with neuropathic pain.

Gua sha involves scraping the skin with smooth, pressured strokes. Doctors apply a lubricant to the skin and use a smooth edged tool to scrape the skin.

Dr. Tzu used a piece of buffalo horn to scrape long four inch strokes on my upper shoulders. Coins, soup spoons and pieces of polished plastic can also be used to administer this treatment.

Scraping was not a pleasant experience for me. I hated it and only put up with a few minutes of this treatment before I told the doctor to stop.

Even Joanna was shocked when my skin turned red and black within seconds of starting the scraping. My skin felt ultra-sensitive and raw. It was a strange experience and one I will never repeat.

An hour later, I felt like I had been whipped, and the pain grew worse for a week afterwards. I wondered if Dr. Tzu had done some serious damage to one of the most painful parts of my body.

When I got home, I decided to delve a little deeper into the mysteries of scraping. I found a website called Gua Sha, written by Arya Neilson. She is the author of Gua Sha: A Traditional Technique for Modern Practice and a professor and licensed practitioner of East Asian Medicine.

Her website states:

“Gua Sha is an East Asian healing technique. Gua means to scrape or rub. Sha is a ‘reddish, elevated, millet-like skin rash’ (aka petechiae).

Sha is the term used to describe Blood stasis in the subcutaneous tissue before and after it is raised as petechiae. Gua Sha is one technique that intentionally raises Sha rash or petechiae.

In Vietnam the technique is called Cao Yio, in Indonesia: Kerik, in Laos: Khoud Lam.

Gua Sha is used whenever a patient has pain whether associated with an acute or chronic disorder. There may be aching, tenderness and/or a
knotty feeling in the muscles.

Palpation reveals Sha when normal finger pressure on a patient’s skin causes blanching that is slow to fade. In addition to resolving musculoskeletal pain, Gua Sha is used to treat as well as prevent common cold, flu, bronchitis, asthma, as well as any chronic disorder
involving pain, congestion of Qi and Blood.”

After looking at Joanna’s pictures, I was able to see a distinct pattern arise. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about it. The darkest areas on my back are problem areas for me. First of all, that area is the worst part of my body for fibromyalgia. On some days, I can barely lift my arms or turn my neck because of the pain from fibromyalgia. I carry a lot of stress in my neck and right shoulder.

This became evident to the doctor within a few seconds of beginning the treatment. She flat out said that there are definite health issues in this area. (I never revealed what was going on with me, and honestly didn’t think this treatment would be so bad for me.)

There is a significant difference between my right and left shoulder. My pain has always been worse on my left side and that is clearly evident in the photos during this TCM demonstration.

Honestly, the pictures look as bad as they are. The redness and bruising died down in 10 days, but it was painful and unnecessary. I would never ever recommend it to someone who has fibromyalgia or other autoimmune issues that affect the musculoskeletal system or patients with allodynia. 

To be honest, the cupping was okay, but I didn’t like the scraping at all.

I didn’t find any immediate sense of relief, but as Dr. Tzu said at the end of the session, “All patients are different. Everyone reacts in a different way.”

My experience with scraping in Taiwan, aka Gua Sha - a Traditional Chinese Medicine technique that is supposed to help alleviate pain.

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Taiwan since 2006. I'm a bit of a jack of all trades! I love art, gardening, flower arranging, reading (that's an understatement if you've seen my GoodReads profile), and snuggling with my cats. Animal videos make me cry. I hate cooking. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my garden bloom! Learning about new cultures and exploring the world has been my thing since I started traveling at age 19. A self-professed autodidact, I can speak comfortably on many different subjects and hold a special place in my heart for science, technology, law, health and medicine, and history. You can find me nerding out at home most of the time due to being chronically ill and housebound. If I'm not engaged in one of the activities listed above, I'm probably building websites. Check my About page under Carrie Kellenberger to learn why I'm taking you on this journey with me through My Several Worlds. I can't wait to get to know you better!


  • Steve

    The visual effects of gua sha and cupping are very ugly. I’ve had both done a few times. I feel like I’ve joined a special club when I see fellow marked folks on the bus.

    I think the pleasure is in the pain of gua sha. Cupping is not quite as painful, unless many cups are involved. I’ve had 18 on my back and lived to tell the tale.

    As I once winced several times during a treatment, and was biting my tongue. I heard the following:

    Doctor: Scream if you want.

  • jorees

    Carrie when I first saw the photos of you I thought the skin off your back had taken a tough beating and felt responsible.

    It amazes me how you are able to find deeper meaning in scrapping through culture, history, and science. You are an outstanding person. Feel free to post more photos if you want.

  • ripplebliss

    Ooooooeeeeee! I guess I am totally the squeamish type when it comes to my skin. I was both fascinated and terrified by the photos of your procedures and I would NEVER have the courage to try them out (I haven’t even talked myself into acupuncture yet!)
    I’m learning so much about Taiwanese culture from you and Joanna – it’s an experience in itself reading your blogs. I can’t even imagine how incredible it must be to be there.

  • globetrotteri


    Thanks for allowing me to post a few photos before they’ve even been submitted.

    I’m kind of glad to say I did it. Thanks for giving me the opportunity. And please promise the next photo shoot will be somewhere lovely and relaxing. Lol. I’m with you 100%!

  • Elliott

    I have had the scraping done a few times when i had bad headaches and it was painful. My headache always went away and was replaced by excruciating back pain.

  • Dan

    I have had problems with my lower back for maybe 15 years and I have not recieved any help nor any good explanations from “western” style medicin.

    I got fed up with the situation and I wanted once and for all to sort out the problem behind the pain. I had a MRI taken of my lower back and my orthopaedic surgeon found that a couple of the discs in my back was a little bit degenerated. He also mentioned that it was a quite common finding for people in my age (38)!! Usually they do not know about it- or do not show any symptoms of it.Yet.He did not suggests any operations, only fysiotherapy to strengthen the deeper abdominal muscles and back muscles for better support.It worked OK but I have still had problems with the lowerback.However not as bad as earlier.

    My wife later found this site on the web about a clinique that was kept by a former chineese military doctor. He was giving Gua sha treatments and acupuncture treatments.

    I openminded went for a try and after making a quite thorough examination he said that I had a mild form of ischias problem, with nerves getting squeezed&irritated and that he woulde use a combination of acupuncture and Gua Sha treatment for the lower back. Offcourse I was a littlebit tense at first, since I did not know what to expect- but after a while it felt good. He told me that after a few treatments I will have a “new” back.Even the first treatment gave me actually quite a relief.I felt very energetic and it certainly mobilized the circulation in the back in a whole new way.
    A few times we have done a treatment for the shoulders, neck and even the scalp and that really fells good. I have not felt that “present and sharp” for years. Amazing, to say the least.

    The Gua Sha practitioner maybe has a “softer hand” than what could be suggested by the pictures on the site here.I have only had rashes that lasted for that day and treating the neck and scalp I have not had any rashes at all. I can only recommed it, this Gua Sha treatment really works for me.

    I take approx. a treatment a month and it works fine and it keeps me going normally.The promise of a “new back” was quite an accurate one.

  • Spirit of Wolves

    I just had the scraping done on me today 11-29-07, by a MD in PHX. AZ.

    I did not feel any pain at all. My headache and neck ache did go away after the treatment.

    Yes, my skin did get red and slightly bruise from the vessels and skin being scraped. But no kidding it did work.

    Made a believer out of me.


    Wolf Spirit

  • Julie

    I’ve lived in Taiwan for over 8 years and balked at the idea of gua sha when I first arrived. However something about Taiwan -the humidity, pollution, spending most of my day in a classroom, who knows?!- has made me a frequent victim of colds & flus. I first tried it out of desperation when I’d been sick for ages and nothing made a difference. I was so congested I could barely breathe, and it felt like there was a cinder block on my chest. By the end of the session I was breathing with ease and by the next day I was much farther down the road to recovery than weeks of western medicine had taken me. In all honesty I was over the cold by the end of the week!

    Since then, whenever I feel a cold coming on, I go for a gua sha treatment asap and generally I am back to normal breathing by the next day. It does hurt a bit when they do it and the sicker I am the more sensitive my back is, but it’s well worth the pain to not be coughing up a lung and filling myself with ineffective drugs for weeks on end! I was once told that a massage shouldn’t be painful, but if it doesn’t “hurt” a little, it’s not going to work out the problem.

    Plus, since I generally get my gua sha treatment with a full-body massage, it’s kind of like taking medicine with a spoonful of sugar! I highly recommend it!

  • Monisa

    Hey well i see this forum is quite old but couldnt help myself since ive only just finished doing (hesitantly) the ‘Gua sha’ for my mother lol. I’m from an East-Asian background and have grown up always using ‘Gua sha’ to relieve me of any illnesses. Only recently has it occurred to me that i hope the gua sha does not have any negtive effects on our health which only just now that i decided to search it up and find out how it actually works. However I’ve only found positive feedbacks and I’ve noticed a few of you have mentioned that practitioners carry out the acupuncture softly, whereas we do it quite harshly just get right into it lol. I guess next time i wont hesitate continuing the technique on my mother=p

  • Christine

    Yes i have tried scraping treatment, only once so far and it was on my back. OUCH!!!! my back was black, i need to go for more treatments. Once i forget of how painful it was i will go again. I really hope this works since i have lived with back pain most of my life.

    • Carrie

      Hi Christine,
      Thanks for commenting. I hope your back pain improves with scraping. I didn’t find it that beneficial. I prefer cupping or massage techniques for back pain.

  • Robin Renay

    I had a gua sha session for the first time on Friday. I have a lot of chronic pain issues and my massage therapist suggested I try Gua Sha. I must say that I was amazed that I could, for the first time in a year, able to raise my right arm over my head immediately after the treatment. I was also shocked to see the way my back looked…much worse than the photo above…but the redness is fading and hopefully I’ll be able to wear a tank top within the week. I recommend the therapy, but be forewarned, if you have any issues, you will look like you’ve been beaten with a 2×4. But, it doesn’t hurt….much…and the results have been well worth it for me.

  • CAC

    I had a gua sha treatment when my Chinese massage person knew my stressed back needed more then a massage. It was painfull and did bruise me ( lasted a few days)
    but the gua sha treatment worked wonders on my back. I would definitely have another if needed.

  • William Byrnes

    My wife is Chinese and have been married for almost five years now. The last time she went back to visit her relatives she took a classes for gua sha which she recieved a certificate of completion. Before she came here she also took a class in reflexology for my feet with which I have a problem because of my construction background.
    Anyway,the trretment she gives me on my back and shoulders really works. I was very sceptical at first. She also dose cupping.
    She is also an amazing woman by the way.
    thank you for your time Bill

  • Kelly

    We were vacationing in Vancouver and walked by a Chinese health place and stepped in. I did their ‘troubleshooting’ as I have had terrible headaches for several years now, which nothing from Western medicine has been able to fix after numerous tests and specialists, nor has acupuncture or massage helped much. They did an hour of ‘scraping’ on me, which was somewhat painful but had absolutely amazing effects in releasing some of the banjo string tensions that my neck and shoulders were harboring. Dr. Gao kept saying ‘oh, sick muscle’. I was covered in hickey type bruises which he said would take 3 to 7 days to go away, depending on my circulation. Three days later the bruising is almost gone but the relief continues. I am definitely going to be looking for a practictioner to continue these treatments now that I am back home in Houston, and will look into cupping also. Thanks for posting your experience!

  • Dwight

    This past June & Sept, I had the experience of the scrapping & cupping in Beijing. Previously I tried it in my home town of Vancouver Canada & found it interesting that a cacusuian person doing this type of treatment & with good results. Just needed more experience.
    Now the good part, I love it, the more pain & redness from the treatment the quicker the healing time. We have found a lady with magic hands who has worked on my neck & shoulders for the stress, shoulders from old sporting injuries, lower back, stomach for weight loss & some knee work. Yes, the scrapping can be painful, but most rewarding once you feel the relief over the next couple/few days. We also have tried the scrapping as a facial & with amazing results of looking & feeling younger. Both my wife who is Chinese & me western love the natural healing & repair work which ahs been done on us. Tonight I leave on a plane to go back home knowing that it will be a very restful flt.
    Like the old saying , NO PAIN, NO GAIN applies to this type of healing. Once my wife comes back to Vancouver, we will interview people who know who to do this service.

  • Claire

    I haven’t ever tried scraping and I don’t think it would work for me with fibro and MCAS either. Some treatments can actually harm rather than heal, as it’s so different depending upon our conditions I think.

  • Katie Clark

    I guess I see the overall idea: bring blood to that area to heal, possibly break up myofascial network (although back then they had no idea that network existed), but no, this doesn’t look like a treatment that would be good for Fibromyalgia, especially if you have touch sensitivity.

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      Lots of people have success with it! Not me. Back then I didn’t know better. Over a decade later and I’m very particular about what I do. I’m also reluctant to try a lot of alternative treatments now and tend to stick with the two forms that work or help.

  • Sheryl Chan

    I really love that you’re willing to try all these different sorts of therapies and reading about your experience was interesting! Wish I could try it at least once but I have a bloot Clotting Disorder so no go 🙁

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      It’s amazing what I was willing to try 13+ years ago when I still had core strength and energy to do it. There’s no way I’d do it now, Sheryl. I’m glad I captured these moments and can revisit these posts to see how things were back then. It’s a reminder for me and everything that I’ve tried. It’s also a reminder for others how long the journey is with chronic illness. When someone cavalierly recommends yet another amazing TCM doctor who can ‘cure anything’, I can simply point them to these posts and say I’ve done it and I don’t need to do it again.

      I don’t have any more updates for treatments that could affect a blood clotting disorder, by the way. I never wrote about bloodletting. 🙁 That was a very negative experience.

      The rest was just giving things a try up until I called it quits on most alternative treatments by 2016. Thanks for stopping by. You know I’ll be all over your site again later tomorrow!

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