The School of “Gua Sha” Rock
Jim Dart, PTA
Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock these past couple years then you know that the fitness industry has become much more soft tissue oriented. With the growing popularity of the Foam Roller, as a collective consciousness – athletes around the globe have taken much more of an interest in soft tissue recovery / preventative work.
I see this occurrence directly correlated to the globalization of Cross Fit. Truth is, soft tissue mobilization has been around for thousands* of years. The Chinese have been utilizing a technique – Gua Sha / Graston since their inception of a holistic culture.
GUA SHA : is an off shute technique from acupuncture where the practitioner uses rounded, smooth beveled rocks and slates to scrape the patients skin, creating micro circulation and introduces the beginning stages of localized inflammation to the site.
GRASTON : an advanced technique of myofascial release. The procedure is instrument assisted and is used to detect and release fibrous restrictions or adhesions that produce pain, weakness and functional limitation for the patient.
Graston being the more contemporary version of the two techniques that has been brought back to life as a manual modality is pretty much (for me anyway) the end all – be all – most amazing – I want to have it’s children choice of soft tissue work.
Gua Sha/Graston are pretty much identical but instead of these smooth beveled rocks, Graston utilizes similar rounded beveled edged metallic tools of various shapes, lengths, counters and sizes. These variety of tools make it possible to work on nearly any body part, crevice or orifices.
One main difference between the two soft tissue techniques is that Graston is much more of a systematic process for fascial release and is much more efficient in breaking up adhesions.
How does Gua Sha / Graston help you?
The scraping technique stimulates the bodies lymphatic and venous system to flush out dormant blood, full of free radicals – which cause prolonged inflammation and hinder healing. Stimulating this mirco circulation will keep the healing process going, because the body…as miraculous as it can be…is still flawed.
This is the thought of debriding a wound (ridding of excess dead tissue), cleaning it, scraping dead cells out and so on. The act of debriding stimulates the inflammation process again and brings forth this holy current of healing divinity.
Crossfit Brings Gua Sha to the Western Masses:
Like it, Love it or maybe it’s not your cup of Tea – Cross Fit has brought about popularity and attention. Cross Fit has caused ripples in the very stagnant waters of the Fitness Industry. Like they say in the biz “ Any publicity is good publicity”.
With a bigger population interested new trends will undoubtedly occur. Fortunate enough, the cult sport stimulated this trend in Gua Sha. Doctor’s, Health Professionals, armchair Personal Trainers and Internet Guru’s alike bring their presence and with that a collective knowledge.
How does this effect us?
Training makes you hurt. It makes your muscles tight and sore, and it throws your body off whack. Does that mean we should just stop and be sedentary slobs? While I ascribe to pushing through the pain and disbelief your body can or cannot do something – I’ve known my fair share of old time strength athletes; this does NOT apply to everyone but between all the sports I’ve taken part in they were more concerned with how “tough” their training was rather than how “smart” they trained. If they got injured they didn’t rehab – they basically pushed through the pain or trained around it letting worry fall to the wind. Did they accomplish much? Hell Yeah they did! But, I bet your Grand Dads whiskey that they wished they paid more attention to their body.
Muscle/Joint Soreness and You!
The wretched training hangover…if you don’t know what I’m talking about than you haven’t trained hard enough! This usually occurs after a night of volume deadlifts or marathon event days. If you aren’t privy to this it pretty much makes you feel like sh*t run over twice.
You are groggy, sluggish, you barely have enough power in your legs to hold you up let alone be productive…even your pockets are sore. You are not the Tin Man, though you are so desperate you have already contemplated oiling your knees with WD40. Well my friend, stretching and ice will do wonders but this is where the beauty of Anatomy and Physiology kicks in.
Soft tissue work does many things but its main purpose is to restore tissue extensibility and promote the return of tissue dexterity. Stretching, Massage, Fascial Release, Active Release.
Graston (along many others) fall under soft tissue work.
The strained and broken down muscle is full of lactic acid. We all know that delayed onset muscle soreness or what the biz affectionately call DOMS is a highly painful!
Or maybe you have a recurring strain or muscle pull. Nagging, it tends to act up after the same type of activities.
Brilliantly this is where Gau Sha or Graston can help you!
These two techniques are great because within reason you can simplify their methods without too much insight and still reap the the majority of the benefits!
Ironically enough to seek the relief you desire using these two eastern techniques you ACTUALLY will need to traumatize the soft tissue with something hard and uncomfortable.
Post injury the body initiates the healing process through the stages of inflammation. After a while the body halts this process – and with contusions, lacerations, burns or chronic issues that are severe enough this end up halting the healing process altogether.
Gua Sha returns the body to a state of inflammation jumpstarting the physiological dominos that make up the recovery process.
The Basic Stages of Inflammation – Since you were wondering, “Hey Jim, is this inflamed?!”
- Inflammation/Collagenation – The body signals the clearing cells which I like to think of them as a demolition crew. These “demo” cells clear out the injured and broken counterparts to make room for the healthy new ones & set up a sort of scaffolding for the new tissue.
- Proliferation – On this new scaffolding are where the bricks are laid down – these bricks are the new healthy cells that have specialized to the type of tissue that was injured.
- Remodeling – An extension of the second stage, this is a drawn out process for the cells to specializing further – slowly creating a uniformed matrix linking the new tissue to the old tissue and reaching normal tissue health.
The practitioner uses these instruments to scrape the skin with light to moderate pressure, depending on the effect that he/she wants to illicit.
The lighter the pressure the less the adhesion disruption but will still illicit a microcirculatory effect flushing out dormant toxins. The more hard the pressure (will be slight discomfort) the more adhesions will be affected and smoothed out. This will have a positive effect on fascial release, restoring tissue to its normal length; breaking up what is bounding up the tissue and diminishing trigger points.
After a Graston-Like technique/Gua Sha is done redness will appear at the site, accompanied by more intense red spots, freckle like appearance called “Petechiae”. This is the bodie’s natural response when bringing the dormant blood to the surface of the skin, into the lymph system to be flushed out.
SO HOW DO YOU DO YOU PERFORM THESE MIRACLE HEALING TECHNIQUES ON YOURSELF?
You need only a few household items, cautioned though…if you buy them at the same time at the Supermarket the cashier will probably be freaked a bit out…or envious of the night you may have in store.
DISCLAIMER – Know that this will not and cannot take the place of a trained, clinically taught practitioner with a keen eye and steady hand. This is merely the thought process behind it and how I’ve learned to do it on myself.
What you’ll need:
- Some lotion (Eucerine, petroleum jelly, moisturizer) and an assortment of beveled edges:
- Hilt of an ice cream scoop (Pointed Blunted End)
- Convex side of a spoon (Broad Blunted End)
- Handle end of a butter knife (Beveled End)
- The end of a reflex hammer (Beveled Pointed End)
- Start by putting some moist heat to the area and propping it up so the area is in an independent position (not weight bearing) for about 10 minutes, this will vasodilate the blood vessels and stimulate a bit of circulation.
- Coat the site which you intend to work on with the lotion/moisturizer. This will create a barrier between the tool and the skin, cutting down on the friction and sheering forces that may traumatize the skin negatively.
- Start with the most broad and blunt tool first working your way down to the most narrow and pointed. General treatement time is only 5-8 minutes in length depending on the size of the site. So you will want to spend only a minute or two with the broad blunt tools.
- Start by putting the site on a slight stretch like you want to stretch the skin a bit. Apply the pressure diagonal to the site (Perpendicular + Parallel), using longer strokes with the beginning instruments and shorter, more vigorous strokes with the latter objects.
- You will almost always want to go with how the muscle fibers run, so be up to date on your physiology. Doing this horizontally over a a ligament/tendon could facilitate a cross friction massage but the purpose of this type of soft tissue is predominantly for contractile tissue (Muscle/Fascia/Tendon).
This Gaston-Like technique/Gua Sha can be is to be done 3-4 times a week depending on how tonic (contracted, strained) the site is. I attribute much of my back health and recovery after my last show to some solid chiropractic work, hours of icing, stretching and a TON of this soft tissue work. For a week after my last show my back literally looked like a Picasso painting. Doing this allowed my back to resume its natural posture, length tension relationship with the surrounding muscle and with that – its durability and dexterity.
It puts the lotion on its skin…
Works Cited –
Hall, Harriet. The Graston Technique – Introducing Microtrauma with Instruments. Science and The Media. http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-graston-technique-inducing-microtrauma-with-instruments/. Accessed 7/1/2012.
Hyde, Thomas E. DC DACBSP, CKTP, FCCSS. The Graston Technique: An Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Manual Therapy for Back Pain. http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/chiropractic/graston-technique-instrument-assisted-soft-tissue-manual-therapy-back-pain. Published/Updated 06/30/2010. Accessed 7/1/2012
Stiekma, Marie Han MD, Yu MeiMei MA. Stone Age Therapy for Modern Man (Chinese GuaSha). http://www.guasha.8m.com/stoneagestudio.htm. Updated 01/09/03. Accessed 07/01/2012.