“Bruise ruse” (Gua sha)


I prefer to immerse myself in the topics I write about. If I can receive reflexology, engage a pet psychic, or lend a hand to a palmist, it makes for a more authentic experience to relate. Alas, this will not be the case on this post about gua sha (pronounced gwah saw, although buzzsaw is a better description of what the person goes through).

It falls under the traditional Chinese medicine umbrella, and may be the most impractical of them all. It’s certainly the most painful. It starts off pleasantly enough, with the practitioner applying oil to the patient’s body part. Next comes a scraping of that part, continued until substantial bruising occurs. Bruising is the natural result of the body being pummeled, so this might appeal to alternative medicine patients, with their stated fondness for nature. Singing birds, flowing brooks, busted capillaries.

During scraping, the implement is pressed hard and moved across the skin. I’ve seen safety and protocol for treatments that caution on how to avoid bruising. Gua sha, by contrast, teaches how to cause it. It would be an impressive medicine if its before-and-after photos were switched.

A ceramic spoon is the most-common tool, but other some users employ bones, water buffalo horns, coins, metal caps, and shoehorns. For the fully-sophisticated gua sha practitioner, we have specially designed products from guashatools.com. As described on the website: “Gua sha professional instruments combine performance and user comfort. (It goes without saying that patient comfort is not a gua sha consideration). Enjoy increased control with a textured ergonomic handle. (Much easier to pound the flesh). The clinician’s hand is protected when applying firm pressure. (Can’t say the same for the client’s back). Lifetime guarantee (which is good for 20 minutes if the practitioner pushes hard enough in the wrong place).

The goal of all this is to turn healthy skin into about 18 inches of purple mush. Proponents claim the bruising releases unhealthy elements, so for maximum health benefits, insult Floyd Mayweather’s mother. In Air Assault School, we were told that pain was weakness leaving the body, and the same mindset is used here.

Like most treatments from the east, it comes with an appeal to its age. But what matters in medicine is efficiency, not antiquity. Last week, I spoke with a co-worker who defended using a medicine based on how long it’s been around. I’m baffled when persons who welcome other advances are reluctant to do so when it comes to their health. The co-worker does not use an outhouse, keep her lunch in an icebox, or get to work on a donkey.

The bruises inflicted by gua sah should go away in a couple of weeks. If it goes wrong (remember, being done right means turning purple and sore), a localized collection of blood outside the vessels called a hematoma may form. If so, it must be drained, unless the patients wants to try an especially ironic return trip to the gua sah clinician.

While I can’t say much for the practitioners’ medical qualities, I must credit their linguistics. This is their euphemism for intentionally bruising a patient: “Instrument-assisted unidirectional press-stroking to create transitory therapeutic extravagation of blood in the sub cutis.”

Then there’s this: “Gua sha produces an immune protective effect and stimulates healing.” This is true because after having your back whacked repeatedly, the immune system will go to work to fix the mess.

The practice is most commonly said to be used to combat pain, but like many alternative medicines, it claims to treat a wide assortment of unpleasantness, such as the cold, flu, bronchitis, asthma, congestion, and the three most ubiquitous ailments targeted by alternative medicine: Toxicity, low energy, and poor circulation.

With regard to pain management, gua sha only works because it takes your mind off your headache and onto another body part back throbbing from the flogging. By the time the bruising is gone, the headache would have vanished on its own.

By the way, traditional Chinese medicine is the term for a patchwork of therapeutic practices, many of them contradictory, which were used over two millennium across an expanse of East-Central Asia. It only became labeled and formalized under Chairman Mao, who didn’t believe in it or use it, but who saw political expediency in promoting it. TCM long predates Germ Theory and science-based medicine. The overarching concept rests on nonexistent anatomical features, specifically that chi flows through meridians, with the maintaining of this flow being the key to health.

It is usually touted as “alternative” or “complementary” medicine. There is no “alternative” or “complementary” medicine any more than there is an “alternative” patient who has been “complementarily” cured. In the case of gua sha patients, the cure comes when the treatment wears off.

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