The effects of Gua sha on symptoms and inflammatory biomarkers associated with chronic low back pain: A randomized active-controlled crossover pilot study in elderly

Complement Ther Med. 2017 Jun;32:25-32. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2017.03.010. Epub 2017 Mar 21.


Objective: To address the challenges for trialing with elderly and the lacking of valid sham/placebo control, a randomized crossover pilot study is designed and its feasibility on elderly subjects is evaluated.

Design: A pilot randomized crossover study was conducted with hydrocollator-based hot pack therapy as active control. Pain intensity, physical disability, depression, general health status, and salivary biomarkers were assessed as outcome measures.

Results: Despite there was no significant difference observed between any outcome measures attained by the two interventions, several important differences were noted during the one-week follow-up period. The magnitudes of pain reduction (21-25% versus 16-18%) and disability improvement (45-52% versus 39-42%) were greater in the Gua sha-treated group than the hot pack group. Both treatments were shown to improve flexion, extension and bending movements of the lower back, whereas areas of improvement varied between the two interventions. Decreasing trends were observed in both tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and heme-oxygenase-1 (HO-1) levels following Gua sha. However, rebounds of the biomarkers were observed one week following hot pack. Furthermore, in response to Gua sha, the decrease of TNF-α was strongly correlated with the improvement of physical disability, whereas the physical disability was correlated with the VAS pain intensity.

Conclusion: It demonstrated a feasible clinical trial protocol for evaluating the effectiveness of Gua sha and other therapeutic modalities. Gua sha may exhibit a more long-lasting anti-inflammatory effect relative to hot pack for pain relief and improved mobility in elderly patients with chronic low back pain.

Keywords: Crossover; Elderly; Gua sha; Hot pack; Low back pain; Randomized controlled study.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperthermia, Induced
  • Inflammation / blood
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / blood


  • Biomarkers
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha