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Wash. Post Reports on Popular New Form of Woo

Are you tired of traditional medicine and its artificial restrictions on “natural healing”? Do you have a chronic pain or illness that needs to be fixed? Maybe you should have someone scrape your back with a kitchen spoon. But be sure to give it an Asian name so you can convince yourself that it’s vaguely mystical. Yes, that’s a bit of woo that, the Washington Post reports, is gaining in popularity.

Like massage therapists, gua sha practitioners palpate their patients to find areas that feel tight. They then rub them with a spoon or similar tool until they turn red. “Essentially, you are scraping the restriction in their skin,” Fazio says.

Oooh, “scraping the restriction in their skin.” I bet that takes care of all those conditions that are “vibrating at a lower level” and helps restore “balance.”

Where to scrape tight muscles is obvious; where to scrape for other ailments is decided by traditions that associate different organs with specific parts of the body.

Sounds rigorous. But here’s my favorite part:

Brian Lowit, 37, a manager at a record label in Arlington, says he has had back pain for more than two decades. He tried gua sha last year as part of a regimen that included massage, visits to a chiropractor and structural integration, another alternative therapy that manipulates the body’s connective tissues.

Lowit estimates that Fazio treated him with gua sha about five times in one month.

“I’m skeptical of a lot of stuff,” Lowit says. “I’ll try whatever, but in the end I’m like, ‘Why would this work?’ ” But he was pleasantly surprised.

In photos taken after the first treatment, Lowit’s back looks as though he has fallen backward into a pool off a high diving board: The skin is totally red, with scrapes and welts showing, especially in areas where he had complained of tingling that he felt was caused by poor circulation and muscle stiffness.

After a few days, the redness faded. Photos taken after subsequent treatments make his back look much less painful. “As you break up restrictions, you get less of the reaction,” says Fazio, who compares gua sha to taking a crayon impression of a leaf on wax paper. Just as the toughest parts of the leaf are darkest on the wax paper, the most constricted muscles turn the deepest red during scraping. When trying to figure out where to apply pressure, Fazio says, “it shows you itself.”

Riiiiight. So he tried this bit of bullshit along with massage for his sore neck and, voila, his neck felt better. Kind of like how a Christian prays and goes to the doctor and gets antibiotics and, wouldn’t you know it, the infection cleared up. It’s a miracle! Thank you, Jesus!

Comments

  1. says

    WOW that sounds like a bad idea (unless they sterilize the tools between treatments). Scraping up someones skin for no reason when there are folks crawling with MRSA and other diseases sounds like the worst idea ever.

  2. andrewjohnston says

    Okay, this is 100% bullshit. I’ve studied historic Chinese health practices, I lived over there for a while, and there is no such thing as “scraping.” It looks like you really can sell any old crock if you put some hanzi in front of it.

  3. Artor says

    I imagine that abusing your skin like that can release alot of endorphins to make you feel less pain, but that’s just masking a symptom, not fixing any problems.

  4. baal says

    Light touch can also override pain signals due to how the nerves transmit signals.

    I once attended a CLE on children’s legal issues. One speaker spent 30 minutes going over slides of children who looked like they were abused but since the damage was caused either by ‘traditional medicine’ or ‘religious therapy’ they were not legally actionable. I was more than distressed.

  5. says

    Sure, this one is garbage, but I had my internal organs reorganized via Feng Shui, and once all the bleeding stopped I felt much better. I do have an odd hankering for brains, though.

  6. grumpyoldfart says

    Scraping your skin with a spoon? Next thing they’ll be saying they can cure disease by sticking pins in your back!

  7. says

    For the bargain price of $500, I will drag a theraputic ball across your closed eyes. This treatment works by sensation and the psychosomatic power of touch. As you feel the tickling rubber on your face, you will feel calmed and your perspective improved– maybe not instantly, but don’t be impatient. It doesn’t work if you’re impatient. You must relax, focus, and allow the koosh effect to work on you. Your vibrations will be corrected, your balance will be restored, and….umm…other crap like that.

    Sign up now, this is an offer not to be missed!

  8. Pieter B, FCD says

    Back in my hippie days (early 1970s), an acupuncturist that I was referred to by an aikido instructor did this on my neck with the edge of a coin. It left bruises that looked like I had been beaten with sticks.

    A few years later here in LA I read in the Times about an Asian man, Vietnamese if memory serves, was arrested on child abuse charges because he had done this on two of his children. IIRC they were getting colds or something like that, and the bruises were reported by a teacher. Horrified at being charged with child abuse, he killed himself.

    And wouldn’t you know, Dr. Oz’s pet acupuncturist says it’s very useful.

    Gua sha is a common practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and an invaluable technique in an acupuncturist’s armamentarium.

    …While gua sha is most commonly used to treat pain, it can also be utilized by TCM clinicians to address conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, colds, flu, fever, heatstroke, fibromyalgia, strains, sprains, and muscle spasms.

  9. says

    I’ve had this treatment (for a cold) at the hands of my mother-in-law when I was in Taiwan. She used one of those ceramic soup spoons. It hurt like hell. But accepting it was the path of least resistance. When my wife says “just let her do it, it’ll make her happy,” well, I listen.

  10. comfychair says

    Well, sure. I can see how this would work. After you’ve been assaulted with the spoon, in comparison, the original complaint seems to be not such a big deal anymore. (also, “What? You say if it doesn’t get better you’ll have to keep gouging me with the spoon? Yeah… now that I think about it, it’s getting better, sure is… so much better I think we can go ahead and cancel next week’s appointment.”)

    I suppose if the presenting ailment were much more severe, like say a broken leg, the therapy would also have to be escalated to match. Instead of a spoon, maybe a filet knife, or repetitive, energetic application of two rolls of quarters in an old sock.

  11. Ichthyic says

    For the bargain price of $500, I will drag a theraputic ball across your closed eyes. This treatment works by sensation and the psychosomatic power of touch. As you feel the tickling rubber on your face, you will feel calmed and your perspective improved– maybe not instantly, but don’t be impatient.

    I have a better offer:

    300.00, and I’ll use 2 theraputic balls instead of one…

  12. Ichthyic says

    Well, sure. I can see how this would work. After you’ve been assaulted with the spoon, in comparison, the original complaint seems to be not such a big deal anymore.

    This, IMO, is how the whole “Rolfing” thing got started too.

    Pain to mask pain.

  13. ld7412 says

    It’s not actually scraping the skin. You use the spoon edge to provide strong localized pressure. It’s basically a deep-tissue massage that’s easy to apply. I’m able to do it myself for neck and upper back pain. Traditional medicine practitioners use it to treat other things than muscular pain. I haven’t seen any evidence for that, but it helps for stiff muscles.

    Back to lurking.

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