The early research is promising, but more is needed to learn exactly how gua sha massage may be able to relieve headache or migraine symptoms.

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Gua sha massage has a long history of use as a traditional Chinese medicine technique, and several larger studies have explored its various health benefits. One touted benefit is for chronic headaches and migraine symptoms, but what does the research actually show?

We’ll discuss whether gua sha can relieve headache pain and cover a few techniques you can try if you have chronic headaches or migraine episodes.

Even as a long-used form of alternative medicine, clinical research on gua sha for headache and migraine relief is extremely limited. However, almost every study found showed some measure of pain relief with gua sha use and called for more research to be done.

A Taiwanese study from 2021 looked at the effectiveness of different strategies for migraine relief, with consideration for both Western and traditional Chinese approaches. Gua sha massage ranked fourth on their treatment list, providing pain relief for up to 66% of participants.

One of the earliest case studies on gua sha studied the benefits of this treatment for headaches in a 72-year-old woman living with chronic migraine episodes. According to the case study, when used alongside other treatments, gua sha helped improve her headache symptoms.

While there has yet to be a standard way of discussing gua sha massage within clinical research, some more common ones are instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization and soft tissue massage therapy.

With that in mind, a small study of university students found that soft tissue mobilization significantly reduced headache pain. The results were even better when combined with a stretching routine.

A 2023 review of different headache treatment modalities found that manual massage therapies could be an important treatment tool for those with frequent headaches. This included traditional soft tissue massage and ischemic compression, a technique with firm and sustained pressure that is similar to gua sha massage.

Research on related conditions also suggests that gua sha may have benefits for headache relief.

A recent study from 2023 found that gua sha massage increases blood supply to tissues. This effect on circulation may also affect migraine symptoms or headaches.

Get involved

Are you interested in the scientific benefits of gua sha massage or other traditional forms of Chinese medicine? Check out ClinicalTrials.gov to learn more about ongoing research.

Make sure to always discuss participation in a clinical trial with your primary healthcare professional.

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Gua sha is generally safe for most people, but because of the nature of this treatment, there may still be some side effects.

One of the most common side effects is the appearance of petechiae on the skin. Petechiae develop when the blood vessels become broken or damaged and resemble tiny pinprick spots under the skin.

Other side effects that can occur after using gua sha stones include skin bruising, minor bleeding, skin soreness, and mild muscle aches in the treatment area.

Without much research on the subject, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how to use a gua sha stone for headaches or migraine relief.

With that said, there are several techniques that focus on relieving tension and improving circulation and pain in the face, neck, and shoulders. As these are the areas most related to or affected by headaches, following these methods might lead to some reduction in pain.

Before you start, you’ll want to make sure you’ve cleaned both your tools and your body. A neutral body oil, like jojoba oil, may help the tool move more smoothly over your skin.

Head and scalp gua sha massage for headache relief

To start, run your fingers over your head and scalp. Try to feel areas of tension or twitching muscles — these are good spots to focus your massage on. If there’s no focal point for your headache, you may want to try:

  • Temples: Using a spiraling circular motion, massage your temples and the area around them. Round gua sha tools are ideal for this technique.
  • Behind the ears: If you wear tight glasses, hats, headphones, or other headgear, you may find a tight band of muscles on the back of your head, in between your ears. Drag the rounded edge of a gua sha stone from one ear to the other to help break up this tension.
  • Combing: Some gua sha tools have a side with pronged teeth like a comb. Drag these along your scalp in the same way you would a regular comb, just slowly and with more pressure. You can try this from a variety of directions.

How long should gua sha massage last?

Unless your skin is prone to bruising or you are experiencing another side effect, gua sha massage can be repeated as long as the headache persists.

Because the skin on the face is especially prone to damage, you may want to limit facial gua sha to three to five repetitions.

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Facial gua sha massage for headache relief

When it comes to facial gua sha, it’s especially important to make sure you’re using your tool gently, as your face is much more sensitive than other areas of your body.

Here are a few areas of the face for facial gua sha that you can focus on to possibly help with headache relief:

  • Forehead: Starting in the center of your forehead, lightly scrape the tool toward your temples, stopping at your hairline. Try this on both sides of your forehead, as well as straight upward.
  • Browbone: Some gua sha tools have an indent for the bridge of your nose, allowing for gentle, simultaneous pressure on your browbone. Press upward for several seconds.
  • Eyes: Starting either under your eye or along your eyebrow, gently move the rounded edge of the stone toward your temple until you reach your hairline.
  • Cheeks: Starting on the corner of your mouth and using the longer side of the tool, gently scrape the tool up and across your cheek to your hairline. You can also try to gently scrape the tool along your cheekbone.

Neck and shoulder gua sha massage for headache relief

Similar to facial gua sha, using gua sha techniques on the neck and surrounding areas may help relieve some of the tension that contributes to headache pain:

  • Jawline: Starting in the center of your chin, scrape the stone gently along the length of your jawline until you reach your ear. You can also roll a round tool on your jaw muscle, where it connects to your neck.
  • Neck: Starting at the base of your neck near your collarbone, lightly drag the rounded edge of the stone upward until you reach the underside of your chin. Or, starting at the bottom of the back of your neck, gently move the stone upward until you reach your hairline, making sure to avoid your spine.
  • Shoulders: Starting at the top of your neck, scrape the stone down toward your shoulders, as far as you can reach or as low as you’d like to go. You can also try rolling a round tool on especially tight muscles.

If you’re interested in trying gua sha for headaches or migraine relief, the first step is to purchase a gua sha stone. And here’s the good news: Buying new gua sha tools doesn’t have to break the bank.

Almost every major beauty store (or online retailer) sells gua sha stones, and there are usually a variety of options that you can choose from, depending on your needs. They can also be found in the skin care section of some department stores.

Gua sha tools are typically made from polished stones like jade, rose quartz, or onyx. More expensive tools don’t typically provide any additional benefits to the massage, however they can be more substantial in size and provide ergonomic benefits for those with low hand dexterity.

You’ll commonly find a few variations on the gua sha tool:

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  • Wave scraper: A flat stone with rounded edges. It typically has a wave-like pattern on one edge, sometimes with a heart-shaped indent on another edge.
  • Scraping comb: A flat stone with large, rounded comb teeth. Sometimes combined with other tools.
  • Facial roller: A rolling cylinder of stone with a handle.
  • Acupuncture stick: A stone cylinder, usually with one round and one pointed tip. Should be used with care, especially on the face.
  • Orb or mushroom: A round stone of various sizes. A large marble could also be used. Sometimes shaped like a mushroom with a rounded top and bottom for easier grip.

If you want to keep it even simpler, any larger polished stone you have at home will work — just make sure you’ve cleaned it thoroughly before using it on your body.

Research on gua sha is sparse, with only a few clinical trials exploring the benefits of this technique. However, the available studies do show that gua sha may help reduce tension, pain, and inflammation, which can possibly benefit people with chronic headaches and migraine symptoms.

If you’re interested in trying gua sha for your headaches, consider starting with a few of the techniques mentioned above to see if they benefit you.