Gua sha involves using a smooth-edged tool (like a small wooden spoon, buffalo horn, or a gemstone gua sha tool) to gently scrape areas of your body, which raises tiny round spots on your skin. The spots are known as petechiae, and their presence signals that there’s bleeding under the skin. In fact, “gua” means scrape, while “sha” means sand, referring to the sand-like appearance of petechiae. From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, many diseases and health complaints can be traced back to stagnant “qi” (known as life force energy) and blood in the body, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. By stimulating petechiae at specific points, gua sha is believed to encourage a healthy flow of energy and blood. Gua sha helps promote blood flow to the area being scraped, which can help reduce pain and stiffness.

For example, adults with chronic neck pain saw significant improvements in pain after a single gua sha treatment, compared with adults who used a heating pad, according to a past study. Plus, those who had received gua sha still felt less pain one week after treatment.

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