Effectiveness of Traditional Chinese “Gua Sha” Therapy in Patients with Chronic Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Authors

  • Maximilian Braun MD,

    1. Kliniken Essen-Mitte, Department of Internal Medicine V, Essen, Germany
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  • Miriam Schwickert MD,

    1. Kliniken Essen-Mitte, Department of Internal Medicine V, Essen, Germany
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  • Arya Nielsen PhD,

    1. Beth Israel Medical Center Department of Integrative Medicine, New York, NY, USA
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  • Stefan Brunnhuber PhD,

    1. University Hospital Salzburg, Department for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Salzburg, Austria
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  • Gustav Dobos MD,

    1. Kliniken Essen-Mitte, Department of Internal Medicine V, Essen, Germany
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  • Frauke Musial PhD,

    1. Kliniken Essen-Mitte, Department of Internal Medicine V, Essen, Germany
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  • Rainer Lüdtke MSc,

    1. Karl and Veronica Carstens Foundation, Essen, Germany
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  • Andreas Michalsen MD

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Health Economics, Charité-University Medical Centre, Berlin, Germany
    2. Immanuel Hospital Berlin, Department of Internal and Complementary Medicine, Berlin, Germany
      Andreas Michalsen, MD, Immanuel Krankenhaus Berlin, Zentrum für Rheumatologie und Rheumaorthopädie, Klinik für Innere Medizin, Abteilung Naturheilkunde, Ambulanz für Naturheilkunde der Charité Berlin, 14109 Berlin, Königstrasse 63, Germany. Tel: 49-30-80505-691; Fax: 49-30-80505-698; E-mail: a.michalsen@immanuel.de.
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Andreas Michalsen, MD, Immanuel Krankenhaus Berlin, Zentrum für Rheumatologie und Rheumaorthopädie, Klinik für Innere Medizin, Abteilung Naturheilkunde, Ambulanz für Naturheilkunde der Charité Berlin, 14109 Berlin, Königstrasse 63, Germany. Tel: 49-30-80505-691; Fax: 49-30-80505-698; E-mail: a.michalsen@immanuel.de.

Abstract

Objective.  Gua sha is a traditional East Asian healing technique where the body surface is press-stroked with a smooth-edged instrument to intentionally raise therapeutic petechiae. A traditional indication of Gua sha is neck pain; no data from controlled trials exist to support this claim. The researchers aimed to investigate the effectiveness of Gua sha in the symptomatic treatment of chronic neck pain.

Design.  The study was designed as an open randomized controlled clinical trial.

Setting.  The study was set in Kliniken Essen-Mitte, Academic Teaching Hospital of the University Duisburg-Essen, Germany.

Subjects.  Forty-eight outpatients (58.5 ± 8.0 years; 41 female) with chronic mechanical neck pain were the subjects of the study.

Intervention.  Patients were randomized into Gua sha (N = 24) or control groups (N = 24) and followed up for 7 days. Gua sha patients were treated once with Gua sha, while control patients were treated with a local thermal heat pad.

Outcome Measures.  Primary outcome was change of neck pain severity after 1 week as assessed by visual analog scale. Secondary outcomes included pain at motion, the neck disability index (NDI) and quality-of-life (Short-Form [36] Health Survey).

Results.  Neck pain severity after 1 week improved significantly better in the Gua sha group compared with the control group (group difference −29.9 mm, 95% confidence interval: −43.3; −16.6 mm; P < 0.001). Significant treatment effects were also found for pain at motion, scores on the NDI, and dimensions of quality-of-life. The treatment was safe and well tolerated.

Conclusion.  Gua sha has beneficial short-term effects on pain and functional status in patients with chronic neck pain. The value of Gua sha in the long-term management of neck pain and related mechanisms remains to be clarified.

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