Randomized controlled pilot study: pain intensity and pressure pain thresholds in patients with neck and low back pain before and after traditional East Asian "gua sha" therapy

Am J Chin Med. 2012;40(5):905-17. doi: 10.1142/S0192415X1250067X.


Gua Sha is a traditional East Asian healing technique where the body surface is "press-stroked" with a smooth-edged instrument to raise therapeutic petechiae that last 2-5 days. The technique is traditionally used in the treatment of both acute and chronic neck and back pain. This study aimed to measure the effects of Gua Sha therapy on the pain ratings and pressure pain thresholds of patients with chronic neck pain (CNP) and chronic low back pain (CLBP). A total of 40 patients with either CNP or CLBP (mean age 49.23 ± 10.96 years) were randomized to either a treatment group (TG) or a waiting list control group (WLC). At baseline assessment (T1), all patients rated their pain on a 10 cm visual analog scale (VAS). Patients' pressure pain thresholds (PPT) at a site of maximal pain (pain-maximum) and an adjacent (pain-adjacent) site were also established. The treatment group then received a single Gua Sha treatment. Post-intervention measurements were taken for both groups at T2, seven days after baseline assessment (T1), using the same VAS and PPT measurements in precisely the same locations as at T1. Final analysis were conducted with 21 patients with CNP and 18 patients with CLBP. The study groups were equally distributed with regard to randomization. Patients in both the CNP and the CLBP treatment groups reported pain reduction (p < 0.05) and improved health status from their one Gua Sha treatment, as compared to the waiting list group. Pain sensitivity improved in the TG in CNP, but not in CLBP patients, possibly due to higher pressure sensitivity in the neck area. No adverse events were reported. These results suggest that Gua Sha may be an effective treatment for patients with chronic neck and low back pain. Further study of Gua Sha is warranted.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Complementary Therapies / methods*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / prevention & control
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Male
  • Medicine, East Asian Traditional*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / prevention & control
  • Neck Pain / therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Pressure
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Skin