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Under Pressure

The unconventional method that brought relief to my chronic pain

Even just one treatment can result in long-lasting benefits.

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I never thought that allowing a stranger to intensely rub my muscles with a blunt tool would relieve my chronic pain, but here we are. A month later I am still basking in the assuaging effects of Gua Sha, a healing technique of Traditional East Asian Medicine (TEAM).

You may have previously experienced some form of Gua Sha without having the exact name for it. The technique has roots heavily grounded in folk medicine, and it predates even acupuncture.

“When I teach classes, I frequently hear, ‘Grandma used to do this to me’,” Dr. Tom Ingegno DACM, MSOM, LAc, an acupuncturist at Charm City Integrative Health says. That’s because Gua Sha, while part and parcel of TEAM was traditionally done in homes prior to seeking a physician’s care.

Favorite household tools, Ingegno says, would be Chinese soup spoons, jar lids or large coins. Nowadays, jade tools of various shapes are readily available online and in most acupuncture centers. 

The benefits of Gua Sha

At first, I was hesitant when my acupuncturist asked me if I wanted to try Gua Sha. A quick Google search revealed intimidating photos of beet-red human backs as a consequence of being massaged with the tool.

However, I was soon placated by the fact that the raised redness along the treated muscle group isn’t indicative of treatment painfulness but rather the amount of tension it’s relieving. “Even though the technique looks intense, feedback from satisfied patients confirms [its effectiveness],” Ingegno tells Considerable.

Relief of muscle stiffness and pain is one of the most commonly referenced benefits of Gua Sha.

Jamie Bacharach, a Licensed Acupuncturist, Eastern Medicine Practitioner, Gua Sha Practitioner and the Head of Practice at Acupuncture Jerusalem, says that relief of muscle stiffness and pain is one of the most commonly referenced benefits of Gua Sha.

“More serious injuries can be treated by Gua Sha as well, including arthritis, migraines, and fibromyalgia,” Bacharach tells me. “Edema in the face can be treated by a [less vigorous] form of [the treatment] called facial Gua Sha, and skin health in general can be improved and blood circulation promoted via facial Gua Sha.”

Gua Sha benefits can be felt immediately and last for weeks or months, depending on the frequency of treatment. And, according to Bacharach, even just one treatment can result in long-lasting benefits.

“The nature of the case and patient also plays a factor in regards to benefits experienced,” she notes.

What to expect

Gua Sha techniques are very straight forward.

Basically, whatever tool the practitioner chooses, will be “scraped” along the pathway of the muscle repeatedly with mild to moderate pressure until redness begins rising to the surface. The more tension and pain stored in the area being treated, the brighter red and inflamed it will appear post-treatment. “If it is just muscle soreness it will look less aggravated,” says Ingegno.

During my treatment, the practitioner applied an oil-based lubricant to my forearms (the site of my chronic pain) and began applying rhythmic pressure with the tool in order to relieve tension. She instructed me to breathe deeply and consistently checked in on how I was feeling — the entire treatment, which was done at the tail-end of my acupuncture session, lasted about 10 minutes.

“The exact nature of the Gua Sha treatment — the pressure being applied, the angles and patterns for application, the tool being used, etc. — will depend on the judgement and skill of the Eastern Medicine Practitioner,” notes Bacharach. “Different cases call for approaches that may vary but all follow the same underlying principles and goal to promote circulation and energy flow within the body and targeted area.”

The side effects of Gua Sha

Since I carry a great deal of tension and discomfort in my arms, I’ll admit that after I was treated it looked like I’d been beaten with a belt. However, it was nothing that a few long-sleeved shirts couldn’t conceal and it faded after a few days. The relief to my chronic pain was well worth the temporary redness and moderate bruising.

Since I carry a great deal of tension in my arms, I’ll admit that after I was treated it looked like I’d been beaten with a belt.

Interestingly, when I asked Ingegno why this happens, he told me that Gua Sha translates to “scraping the evil wetness.” If the area treated doesn’t come up red, classically speaking, there was no “sha” or evil wetness present. Perhaps it’s time I start referring to my chronic pain as villainous and wet.

Aside from the red marks and light-to-moderate bruising, a more seductive side-effect of Gua Sha is its positive impact on mental health. “Gua Sha can certainly help with mental health by alleviating stress and anxiety while providing a calming effect,” says Bacharach. Any technique that stimulates blood flow and induces relaxation can help you switch your autonomic nervous system out of fight or flight (sympathetic response) into rest and digest (parasympathetic response). 

While in rest and digest mode, Ingegno explains, your body enters a healing state and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine can normalize, leaving a feeling of relaxation and mental well being. I concur: After Gua Sha, I was on cloud nine, my “evil wetness” nowhere to be found.

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Words to Live By

12 words about to reach retirement age (that remain essential)

These words first came on the scene in 1955 and will soon turn 65.

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As the world changes, so does vocabulary. New technologies, ideas, and trends bring with them new words. Words that first came on the scene in 1955 will soon be 65 years old. Some of them, such as in-letter, a letter in the in-basket on your desk, have retired with the decline of actual written-on-paper letters. But many of them not only show no intention of retiring, they have become indispensible to the current linguistic landscape.

Here are some words about to turn 65 that are as popular as ever.

1. Database

The first citation for database comes from a 1955 economics journal article. In 1962 it was written as two separate words in quotes in the following explanation: “A ‘data base’ is a collection of entries containing item information that can vary in its storage media and in the characteristics of its entries and items.”  Now it’s so common a concept it needs no explanation or scare quotes. 

2. Weirdo

Weirdo started as slang. The first citation is from an encyclopedia of jazz where it appeared as “Weird-o, a weird person.” It turned out to be very useful in the following decades. 

3. Mind-boggling

The verb “to boggle” and the expression “it boggles the mind” were older, but the succinct adjective mind-boggling first made an appearance in Erich Fromm’s Sane Society: “Consumerism in the America of the 1950s constructed a culture of mind-boggling banality and stifling homogeneity.”

4. Counter-intuitive

Another prominent intellectual of the period, Noam Chomsky, gives us the first citation for counter-intuitive, that which is contrary to intuition, or unexpected. It appeared in a 1955 work in theoretical linguistics, but took a while to reach the wider culture.

5. Labradoodle

This cross-breed of a Labrador retriever and a poodle had been around for awhile as a “Labrador-poodle mix” before the cute blended name was coined in 1955. It didn’t catch on for a couple decades, but is firmly in the dog-loving culture now.

6. Artificial intelligence

In 1955 a group of scholars produced “a proposal for the Dartmouth summer research project on artificial intelligence.” The conference that took place at Dartmouth the next year is the beginning of the field of study concerned with the ability of computers to behave like intelligent beings. 

7. Badass

This slang term for cool toughness shows up in a 1955 letter by James Blake, a jazz pianist and self-described “world’s most inept burglar” who published a book of his letters written from prison in 1971.

8. Inner child

The concept of the inner child, a person’s hidden, innocent, playful, authentic self developed in the 1950s and really flowered in the 1960s. The term and the idea are now fully entrenched in the culture.

9. Self-destruct

The noun self-destruction is centuries old, but our first evidence of the verb is from a 1955 publication of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association describing “a ‘self-destruct’ circuit” that would “cause an anti-aircraft missile to destroy itself in mid-air so as to avoid danger to friendly ground forces.” In the late 60s, the TV show Mission: Impossible spread the idea of the self-destructing communication.

10. Skydiving

Before there was skydiving there was parachuting. After the end of World War II, returning soldiers developed the fun pastime of “sport parachuting” which eventually became “skydiving.”

11. State-of-the-art

These days it’s not unusual at all to talk about state-of-the-art skincare, or refrigerators, or chewing gum. It adds the sheen sophisticated, high-level technology to whatever the product. It first appeared in a 1955 issue of the Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society with reference to automatic flight systems.

12. A-line

Fashion trends come and go quickly, and a big one of the late fifties, the A-shaped dress contour introduced with the 1955 Christian Dior spring collection, has come and gone as a style, but the name for the flared silhouette is the term we still use.

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