Gua sha, or skin scraping therapy, is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that releases pressure in the face. It can help with conditions such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.

TMJ disorder affects the joints that connect the lower jaw to the main skull. It can cause chronic pain and discomfort and impact a person’s quality of life. Treatments are available to remedy the symptoms, such as painkiller medications, massages, or alternative treatments, such as gua sha.

This article explores gua sha and its use for TMJ, the benefits of gua sha, other uses of gua sha, and alternative treatments of TMJ.

Older woman using gua sha skin scraping on jawShare on Pinterest
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Gua sha is a traditional and natural healing technique with origins in East Asia, but it is becoming increasingly popular in contemporary and Western medicine. The healing method uses an instrument with smooth edges to perform regular strokes in a single direction on lubricated skin.

A loose translation of gua sha is “dredging meridian stagnation.” Meridian is a concept in Chinese medicine, which refers to a flow of energy through a channel in the human body. Gua sha reduces obstacles by dredging meridian stagnation and enables the energy to flow more efficiently.

The use of gua sha

The scraping motion causes bleeding — petechiae — within the middle layer of skin. Petechiae refers to small, red spots that create rashes as they burst small blood vessels in the middle layer of skin.

By generating and forcing the skin to recover naturally from petechiae, gua sha benefits immune surveillance in the skin. This is a protective mechanism where the immune system identifies and destroys potentially harmful cells.

Gua sha is increasingly popular when treating a range of conditions, as it is a noninvasive method and is relatively easy to learn. According to a 2020 systematic review, gua sha is one of the most common types of manual therapy for musculoskeletal disorders.

Doctors class TMJ disorder as a form of musculoskeletal pain, as it affects the two joints connecting the jaw to the skull and the surrounding muscles.

Gua Sha can relieve musculoskeletal pain by:

  • increasing the heme-oxygenase enzyme, which reduces inflammation and neuropathic pain
  • enabling an immunomodulatory effect, meaning it alters immune system function
  • increasing circulation in the location of treatment
  • reducing pain around the neurological receptors

A systematic review from 2021 found that up to 62.5% of people with TMJ disorder in the United States may use complementary medicine as a form of treatment.

There is a gap in the scientific literature, but anecdotal evidence has found gua sha to be an effective form of treatment for TMJ.

TMJ symptoms

The main symptoms of TMJ disorder are:

Gua sha can support people with TMJ by relieving:

  • tension
  • neck pain
  • muscle aches

Depending on the purpose, there are slightly different techniques for performing gua sha. Researchers from 2019 suggest a possible routine for gua sha on the face:

  1. Clean and lubricate the skin.
  2. Place the tool on the skin and, applying pressure, use a scraping motion to move the tool upward to intentionally create therapeutic petechiae (sha), starting from the neck and moving toward the cheeks.
  3. Repeat the motion from the beginning, moving the tool upward in a single stroke.

For the most effective treatment, it is advisable for people to consult a professional for gua sha therapy.

The positive results of gua sha therapy can apply to a range of disorders.

Conditions that may use gua sha as a treatment method include:

In addition to gua sha, other physical treatment methods for TMJ include:

Research has found each of these methods reduces pain and increases the range of motion for people with TMJ disorder. However, a professional must perform the treatment, as they will be able to locate the necessary pressure points and provide further information about the process they are performing.

Other treatments

2022 research indicates that the best methods of treating TMJ disorder are nonmedicinal. Treatment methods can include:

  • removing items that are difficult to chew from the diet
  • resting the jaw
  • applying a warm compress
  • practicing facial stretches

Read on for other ways to relieve TMJ pain.

Gua sha is a form of natural healing that uses a flat tool to scrape the skin to burst the blood vessels in the middle layer of the skin. The aim is to create small wounds — petechiae — as the body will naturally alter the immune system to heal them beneficially.

Gua sha may help people with TMJ disorder, as the therapy can release pressure and increase circulation in the region, which will relieve TMJ symptoms.