Effectiveness of traditional Chinese "gua sha" therapy in patients with chronic neck pain: a randomized controlled trial

Pain Med. 2011 Mar;12(3):362-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01053.x. Epub 2011 Jan 28.


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 [36] 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.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / therapy*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Treatment Outcome