Scraping Away The Pain

We humans are nothing if not adaptable. Take pain, for example...headaches in particular. Now, there are lots of unfortunate souls who suffer from debilitating migraines, and I don't think they ever get used to it. But there are also so many people who get headaches 3, 4, 5 times a week, and they simply consider it part of their life. They stock up on Excedrin and wait for the pain to hit, then they start treating their headaches at the expense of their stomachs. Thankfully, I have never suffered from chronic migraines. I've had a few, and I can't understand how people get through their lives in such agony. But overall, I am more of a headache person than anything else. My stomach is rarely sick, I'm not usually prone to aches and pains, and I don't catch colds frequently. If anything in my body is out of balance, though, it will usually manifest in a headache.

I spent a good portion of high school in the nurse's office, trying to relax my headaches into submission. Not eating breakfast, getting my period, spending the night talking on the phone rather than sleeping...any of these factors would inevitably lead to an aching head. I could have changed my habits, of course, but I was a teenager. What teenager has the presence of mind to shift their habits in an attempt to be proactive about their health? Some, maybe, but not me. So I took lots of aspirin and naps, and just dealt with the pain.

Now that I'm an adult, I know my headache triggers and am better at avoiding them. I know that I need a certain amount of sleep, that I can't go long periods without eating, that regular acupuncture helps to keep them at bay. Looking back, it's kind of sad to think of all the time I wasted feeling like crap. It could have been worse, of course, but no one wants to miss out on a good time due to preventable pain.

I see a lot of headache/migraine patients, and the results they get from acupuncture are pretty amazing. I myself am sometimes completely blown away by the efficacy of a medicine that is so astoundingly simple. Take gua sha, for example. Gua sha is a way to move the qi and blood in the body by using some sort of lubrication combined with a flat, smooth-edged object. I have a professional gua sha tool, but really, we acupuncturists can use almost anything. Most of us tend to use Chinese soup spoons, but I have seen people use coins, Snapple caps...you name it. We simply take the rounded edge of the object and rub it against the lubricated skin, until we see the appearance of "sha." Sha is the redness that comes from the scraping, and it often looks like a scrape-red, with tiny dots that are darker in color. Break up the stagnation in the tissue, and healthy, fresh blood will flow to the area, releasing tension and pain. So simple. Yet it works.

I have patients come in who have debilitating migraines, patients who are on tons of meds, patients who haven't been able to find relief anywhere else. More often than not, I gua sha the necks and shoulders of these patients. Some patients find that their headaches resolve completely and permanently. Others don't have experiences that are quite so dramatic, but find that their headaches almost instantly shift in intensity and duration. More often than not, this seems to be a key factor in ending the succession of headaches.

And now, when my patients ask why the gua sha is helping their headaches, I can just show them this: