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Everything You Need To Know About Gua Sha Massage for Migraine

As the new year rolls around I always think about new strategies to try to improve my vestibular migraine symptoms. This year I plan to try a few new natural therapies for migraine. Have you heard about gua sha for migraine? Gua sha also called scraping therapy is a therapeutic, tool assisted type of massage. This healing technique has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for migraines for centuries. It’s most commonly used for conditions of chronic pain making it a good fit for many of us with migraine disease. During treatment a smooth edged tool is used to scrape your skin. While the first thought of it may seem hokey, it’s actually a relaxing massage therapy technique that offers many benefits for those with migraine.

What is gua sha?

Gua sha is a traditional East Asian simple scraping therapy in which painful areas of the body are lubricated with oil and then press scraped with a smooth rounded edge tool. Scraping is performed in an outward linear pattern toward your natural lymphatic drainage areas. Gua sha for migraines involves using a smooth edged tool and gentle pressure paired with oil, lotion or serum for easy gliding to help soothe and stretch muscles to ease pain and reduce tension.

What are the benefits of gua sha for migraines?

We all know how important it is to practice intentional daily stress reduction techniques when you have migraine disease. Gua sha’s gentle scraping therapy is a delightful part of that practice. It helps relax tight muscles in the neck and shoulders that often come with migraine attacks and to help soothe painful allodynia spots. Here’s a list of other great benefits of gua sha for migraines:

  • Aids in overall relaxation and feelings of wellness & self-care
  • Increases circulation
  • Promotes healing of soft tissue
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Reduces puffiness in the face that many of us see with attacks
  • Reduces the effects of stress
  • Relaxes the jaw
  • Reduces muscle tension in the neck
  • Soothes allodynia spots
  • Stimulates blood flow

Can gua sha help improve your migraine symptoms?

So can gua sha help reduce or relieve your symptoms of migraine or reduce your number of attacks? The short answer is, maybe. While more research is needed one small study showed scraping therapy has been used effectively to treat patients who have medication overuse headache. And another small study showed improvements in those with neck pain which often comes with migraine. Since it is tension relieving it may also be particularly helpful in relieving tension headaches and sinus pressure.

Does gua sha hurt?

When you hear the word scraping to describe gua sha for migraine you might be wondering if gua sha hurts. Overall gua sha is very gentle and involves just light pressure so it generally feels like a deep tissue massage. If you have allodynia spots around your face and scalp it does hurt a little as you work over them. Avoid applying too much pressure as you work over these areas. For me I’ve noticed a decrease in pain with regular use. It may help to pair scraping of the scalp with peppermint or ginger oil to ease allodynia spots and help your tool easily glide across your skin and scalp.

Can gua sha make migraine symptoms worse?

Some people might notice an uptick in pain around allodynia spots as you begin this scraping therapy. For the most effective results we recommend working with a technician certified in administering gua sha to learn the proper technique for your specific pain and intended outcomes.

Where is gua sha for migraine available?

Gua Sha for migraine is available in many acupuncture and massage therapy clinics. Seeking help from a licensed acupuncturist or massage therapist trained in gua sha techniques can help to best pinpoint the type and technique of treatment best for you as an individual. They can also teach to proper technique before you begin trying it on your own at home.  

If you prefer to go a more informal route you can try gua sha massage yourself at home.

Common technique for gua sha face scraping massage

For your face…

  1. Start by watching a variety of gua sha techniques and tutorials (from licensed providers) on social media and Youtube. Or visit a licensed therapist to learn proper technique.
  2. Choose your gua sha tool and oil, lotion or serum. This scraping therapy is less reliant on any specific tool and more reliant on the technique itself so spend time there learning how to hold your tool and move it across your face and head.
  3. On clean skin apply oil, lotion or serum all over your face. Lubrication is an important step to help your tool glide easily over the skin. You shouldn’t feel any friction.
  4. Visually divide your face in half using your nose as the mid-point. You don’t want to rub back and forth or up and down vigorously in any area. Instead start at your nose and gently move in an outward direction toward your ear. Use one smooth stroke outward picking your tool up off of your face as you move back to your midline with your gua sha tool. Work each gentle scrape 5-10 times in the same area.
  5. On your face it’s common to move from your…
    1. Jaw towards your ear
    2. Lips towards your ear
    3. Cheek towards your ear
    4. Nose towards your ear
    5. Between your eyes up toward your scalp
    6. Above your eyebrows up and outward towards your temple
  6. Be gentle and do not tug on your skin. Complete one side at a time.

Note: If you’d like to skip the serum, try gua sha scraping therapy in the shower each day. The water will act as your lubricant.

Common technique for gua sha scalp scraping massage

For your scalp…

  1. Start by watching a variety of gua sha techniques and tutorials on social media and YouTube (from gua sha certified technicians) .
  2. Choose your gua sha tool and oil, lotion or serum. You can purchase serums specifically made for scalp health. Comb like tools are available specifically for the scalp.  
  3. If you prefer not to use a serum you can throw a scarf over your head. Your gua sha tool will glide easily across the scarf while you apply gentle pressure to massage your head.
  4. Start at your forehead and move your gua sha tool back and down the curve of your head toward your spine. Repeat each stroke 5-10 times picking up your gua sha tool and bringing it back to the beginning for one smooth stroke each time rather than rubbing back and forth.

What kind of gua sha tool do I need?

Gau sha for migraines can technically be performed with any smooth edge tool. In Chinese medicine for migraines this scraping therapy is traditionally performed using a soup spoon. Keeping that in mind there are many tools to choose from easily available for purchase on Amazon. I decided to start with a stainless steel tool. Because I plan to use mine with my peppermint essential oil, I was worried about the natural stones taking in the oil so I chose stainless steel for easy cleansing and sanitizing. It’s nice and heavy. It’s thicker and more rounded than I thought it would be so there are no sharp edges to worry about injury. I enjoy how cold it is when I begin even though it does quickly warm up to skin temperature. 

I personally would choose a stainless steel or natural stone tool and avoid the thinner plastic ones available on the market. Whatever tool you decide on plan to keep it super clean and check the condition before each use. Any nicks or chips in the stone or accumulated bacteria can cause injury to your skin so keep it in meticulous condition.

Gua sha tool recommendations:

  1. The Original Stainless Steel Gua Sha Tool with Travel Pouch – By SACHEU
  2. ROSELYNBOUTIQUE Gua Sha Facial Tool Jade Stone Board (Pink)
  3. Gua Sha Facial Tool Natural Jade Stone (Green)
  4. Guasha Scraping Scalp Handheld Head Massage Tool Resin

Scraping therapy face oil recommendations:

  1. Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil. Facial Oil
  2. Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil 
  3. Kinship Kinskin Oat Ceramide Relief Oil
  4. Herbivore Botanicals Emerald Deep Moisture Glow Face Oil
  5. Youth To The People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Facial Oil

Gua sha scalp serum recommendation:

  1. Pacifica Beauty Scalp Love Serum in Rosemary Mint
  2. Difeel Premium Natural Hair Care Oil in Peppermint
  3. Peppermint & Aloe Hair Scalp Serum by Olivia Care 
  4. Act+Acre Cold Processed Scalp Renew Treatment with Salicylic Acid and Peppermint

Migraine massage therapy

I take medication as part of my vestibular migraine treatment plan so I’m certainly not suggesting anyone use gua sha for migraine to replace medication. But, gua sha can be a beneficial lifestyle change when used alongside your other treatment strategies as part of your multi-modal treatment plan. If you know me, then you know I like to get away with as little medication as possible so I lean in heavy to other areas of the migraine treatment pie such as movement, supplements, relaxation techniques and other migraine natural treatments.

Gua sha is one migraine treatment strategy that you can look forward to doing every day. Since you determine the pressure and what feels comfortable for you, this gentle scraping therapy feels less like a treatment strategy and more like an overall pleasant and relaxing self care technique. Because gua sha for migraines is a completely natural, simple and very inexpensive treatment strategy. I really think this is going to be one strategy I’m so glad I tried.

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About the Author

Jennifer Bragdon

I was diagnosed with Vestibular Migraine in 2016 and my neurotologist added a Ménière’s Disease mild diagnosis in 2018. I went from being housebound for months to working full time and living an active full life by following the Migraine Strong treatment pie. Preventive medications, the Heal Your Headache Diet and supplements do a lot of the heavy lifting in relieving my symptoms. You can also find me over on The Dizzy Cook blog baking yummy head safe goodies on a guest post each month.

View all posts by Jennifer Bragdon