Objective: Gua sha is a traditional East Asian healing technique where the body surface is press-stroked with a smooth-edged instrument to intentionally raise therapeutic petechiae. A traditional indication of Gua sha is neck pain; no data from controlled trials exist to support this claim. The researchers aimed to investigate the effectiveness of Gua sha in the symptomatic treatment of chronic neck pain.
Design: The study was designed as an open randomized controlled clinical trial.
Setting: The study was set in Kliniken Essen-Mitte, Academic Teaching Hospital of the University Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
Subjects: Forty-eight outpatients (58.5±8.0 years; 41 female) with chronic mechanical neck pain were the subjects of the study.
Intervention: Patients were randomized into Gua sha (N=24) or control groups (N=24) and followed up for 7 days. Gua sha patients were treated once with Gua sha, while control patients were treated with a local thermal heat pad.
Outcome measures: Primary outcome was change of neck pain severity after 1 week as assessed by visual analog scale. Secondary outcomes included pain at motion, the neck disability index (NDI) and quality-of-life (Short-Form  Health Survey).
Results: Neck pain severity after 1 week improved significantly better in the Gua sha group compared with the control group (group difference -29.9 mm, 95% confidence interval: -43.3; -16.6 mm; P<0.001). Significant treatment effects were also found for pain at motion, scores on the NDI, and dimensions of quality-of-life. The treatment was safe and well tolerated.
Conclusion: Gua sha has beneficial short-term effects on pain and functional status in patients with chronic neck pain. The value of Gua sha in the long-term management of neck pain and related mechanisms remains to be clarified.
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